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Tue 27 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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Learning the lingo

Tackling the language barriers in the upstream oil and gas business calls for an integrated QHSE implementation. Power rental supplier Aggreko has found investing in overcoming that language barrier saves time, money and lives.

Learning the lingo
Oil and gas teams are regularly made up of people from across several continents so making sure everyone understands key safety messages is vital.
Learning the lingo
Visual prompts on site help remind staff of proper QHSE procedures.

Tackling the language barriers in the upstream oil and gas business calls for an integrated QHSE implementation. Power rental supplier Aggreko has found investing in overcoming that language barrier saves time, money and lives.

These days, QHSE is by no means an optional extra. However, the degree to which policies and systems are applied and upheld varies greatly from company to company and culture to culture. In the Middle East, and significantly the United Arab Emirates, one of the many challenges facing QHSE teams is the significant mix of nationalities, which can make communicating key QHSE policies even more difficult.

As companies continue to expand their presence across the world, the varying levels of understanding about good QHSE become apparent. Although some countries, including the UK and the UAE, have already implemented legislation to ensure that a minimum standard of health and safety must be followed, this is not true in many regions. Because of the varying standards of QHSE worldwide, companies must ensure that their own QHSE systems are communicated clearly to all employees, a task which involves a thorough educational process.

Power rental supplier Aggreko International is acutely aware of the struggles that can be faced when trying to standardise QHSE systems across an international workforce.  Headquartered in Jebel Ali in Dubai, UAE, and with depots and project sites based across Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America and South America, the company has had to design a QHSE system that can be adapted cross-culturally, in several different languages and sometimes in regions where the standards in place are lower and the understanding of QHSE concepts are minimal.

Recognising these issues, the company has taken steps to ensure that the key messages are conveyed and that the vital procedures that must be followed are understood no matter where in the world they are being implemented. An online portal, QHSE Share Point, is one of the simplest ways in which Aggreko communicates its QHSE policies. The intranet facility is a bank of all the company's ISO and OHSAS certifications as well as Aggreko policies that must be adhered to. A translation strategy is now being put into place so that all materials are available in English, Chinese, French, Spanish and Portuguese, with further languages being added as needed.

Understanding is key

However well documented the QHSE procedure, once systems have been designed, companies must then ensure that they are actively adhered to. A formal induction process is an essential part of this, helping any new employees to understand the procedures and also the reasons why they are so important from the very beginning of their career with the company. Following this induction, workers should be provided with a gradual introduction to hazardous situations which helps them to ensure that precautions and QHSE actions become a regular part of the working day.
An effective way to highlight how serious a company takes its QHSE policies is to ensure that before any project goes ahead the system is already an integral part of all planning and procedures. Aggreko conducts a risk assessment of all activities at two points before any work begins, with a Pre Tender QHSE Review and then a Post Contract QHSE Review, which takes place before mobilisation. A Compliance Review is then conducted following the commissioning of the project and then again every six months for its duration. These reviews are carried out by a professional QHSE auditor with further monitoring performed by a member of Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), also at six-month intervals.

At Aggreko, such reviews are then presented to the company's senior management who act on any discrepancies. In fact, QHSE is regarded so highly by the management team that Aggreko's managing director has a note of the most dangerous hazards on any project site, so when visiting these sites he can ensure that all measures are correctly in place to reduce the possibility of any accidents occurring.

Another successful initiative that has been put into place is to have all necessary hazard warning signs on site in the dialect of that location, whether Hindi, Arabic or Mandarin, to ensure that workers are aware of the most important HSE procedures that they must abide by. Further to this, Aggreko is using more pictorially based signs to convey warning signs on site, and has launched ‘Safety For Life', which is a collection of eight cartoon based posters which explain hazardous situations through imagery to get the message across effectively.

The posters are displayed clearly on site at important health and safety points -  for example, in areas where dangerous machinery is being operated a character is on hand wearing a hard hat and safety glasses to remind workers to wear protective items at all times. Pradeep Bhalla, QHSE manager at Aggreko International, says that one of his most powerful weapons in the implementation and monitoring of QHSE policies is the support of the company's senior management team. "We have a very culturally diverse workforce at Aggreko and it is a challenge to ensure that QHSE is understood and upheld across the whole company. Countries such as Brazil and UK have already implemented legislation to ensure that a minimum standard of health and safety is applied to every company's activities and those involved in the oil and gas sector tend to have very high levels of safety already in place.

"It is in countries where such legislation does not exist that understanding of the importance of QHSE is low. Aggreko is currently trying to recruit trained QHSE managers native to the country that it is working in to better understand the culture of health and safety management and the ways in which we can work to heighten the standards and ensure application is consistent and correct."

For companies where proper QHSE plays such an important role, understanding the differing approaches that need to be taken to ensure each employee is fully aware of his or her role in adhering to this system is crucial.

Language barriers and cultural divides may prove challenging, however in the long run spending time on translating the importance of QHSE to all employees will certainly save time, money and lives in the future.