Health, Safety and Culture


I attended a conference in Maputo this month on Health, Safety, the Environment and Cultural Awareness where different presentations were given in relation to the oil industry in Africa. This happened against the backdrop of the Scottish independence vote and there were some interesting parallels that could be drawn from the two events.

A lot of presentations were related to the cultural impact of oil exploration in different countries and how sympathetic approaches were taken to identifying sites of local importance as well as sites that contained historical relics. This approach extended to using ground-penetrating radar to identify sites such that seismic routes could be created that avoided these, as well as the exhumation and reburial of remains. The idea is that this will enable people’s attachment to the land to be continued, whilst oil is then extracted. It was interesting to learn how this approach has paid dividends in certain countries, where changes that include communities, cultures and people have resulted in increased production and reduced disruption.

At the same time, the political representations regarding the Scottish devolvement from the union of the United Kingdom were building to a climax. During the process, much was made of the oil within the Scottish territory and the wealth that (on paper) this granted the people of Scotland. At the final hours, changes to include requests from the Scottish people on more powers to decide their own future were granted by the central Government, which certainly played a part in the ultimate decision for Scotland to remain a part of the UK. Again, cultural sensitivity played a part in the oil industry and the extraction of oil from the ground in the UK.

During the conference the difference between Generation X and Generation Y/millennial staff and their approach towards technologies also became apparent. Presentations were given in relation to technology and projects that were considered best-in-class. The reception varied among people – some (Generation X) were discussing what they couldn’t do and why, for them, the approach would not work, whereas the Generation Y crowd was receptive to new ideas and suggested further improvements and options. There was very much a dichotomy of views, potentially because of experience and legacy knowledge. One such discussion hinged over the frustration of some elders that the younger generation were not interested in learning about their origins and heritage – the counter view was that with the internet, prevalent mobile technology and the easy access to search engines, it was easy to learn what you needed to know, when you needed to know it. Since time is always an issue, why learn things that are not needed until such time as they are? Knowing where to learn what is needed was more important than learning and not needing to know.

A complimentary view on this was presented in regards to competence and defining what every person in an organisation needs to know and, more importantly, exhibit in terms of soft skills. This approach then enables someone (especially of Generation Y) to learn appropriate skills and obtain knowledge to progress through an organisation. Again, this is something that is slowly being driven into the industry through legislation but faces opposition because many Generation X staff are concerned that they may not meet the criteria defined for their own role. Generation Y folks, however, see this as an excellent tool and planned way of developing.

It seems that the cultural impact on business is something that is going to become more critical moving forward – not only culture from different geographies, races and creeds, but also culture with regard to technology and how it is employed. It would be fascinating to understand how many companies build a culture-awareness program into their training and development plans … It seems to me to be the perfect quid pro quo and I imagine those companies enlightened around corporate social responsibility are equally as enlightened when it comes to satisfying shareholders!

About the Author
Andy Coward is Senior Director, Business Solutions at P2 Energy Solutions.

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