The aim of the paper is to argue that systematic preparation for proficient cross-cultural communication has to be an important part of safety (HSE) management in multicultural teams.
Globalization processes have increased the amount of worldwide cross-cultural cooperation resulting in a boost in the number of multi-cultural teams. This trend is even more amplified by the introduction of new information and communication technology (ICT) facilitating cooperation over long distances. Within the oil and gas industry ICT is e.g. used to allow expert centres located in different countries to discuss real time data by communication through video conferences. This trend leads to new kind of challenges for safety management in multicultural teams.
Human behaviour and safety are closely linked. Within traditional safety management it is common to use analytical and formalistic methods to systematically identify possible dangerous situations, and then establish barriers, procedures and safeguards to detect and avoid the occurrence of these situations. Still undesired events leading to economic loss and accidents sometimes occur. A majority of these errors are so-called human errors: caused by performances that are not in line with the planned procedures. These kinds of errors classified as so-called human errors often occur due to misunderstandings between employees. Human errors can equally occur as a result of less motivated employees working together; a lack of trust and caring. It will be argued that the possibility of occurrence for both mentioned reasons for human errors increases when a team changes from a single cultural team to become multicultural.
The paper will consist of three parts, where the reader may choose to read only parts 1 and 3.
Part 1 explains why a systematic preparation for efficient cross-cultural communication is an important part of safety management in multicultural teams. The explanation is based on a study conducted at a refinery in Venezuela.
Part 2 gives a more detailed description of the study for readers that are especially interested. This section will rely more on theoretical references. The readers that would like to avoid too much the oretization may go directly from part 1 to part 3 without losing the main arguments of the paper.
Part 3 suggests some approaches to systematic preparation for efficient cross-cultural communication in multicultural teams;
A. Adjustment of safety behaviour programs to fit local conditions and contexts.
B. Courses preparing for cross-cultural communication challenges and how to handle them.
C. Facilitating for international HSE experience transfers.
Part 1: Cross-cultural communication and its impact on safety management
Cross-cultural communication has at least two impacts on safety management:
Poor cross-cultural communication may lead to direct misunderstandings in the communication between two employees causing undesirable situations that may develop into more serious accidents if not handled properly.
Poor cross-cultural communication may affect the working environment and the establishment of trust and mutual goodwill among the employees. Thus, it may easily affect the employees' motivations to care for their colleagues.
The first point stated above is likely to seem obvious for a majority of the readers. It is not only connected to cultural issues, but also to language skills. The latter point could be more difficult to grasp and is indirectly associated with safety management. Point 2 above is therefore exemplified with quotations from the study, "The Game of Trust"  which is based on interviews from a refinery in Venezuela.