When striking up a partnership with a large number of contractors, a multinational petrochemical and gas production company came up against a strong difference when it came to safe working practices. It was cause for concern to them. The contractors were hired to repair damage caused by the petrochemicals group's gas production activities in a certain area. And the company felt partly responsible for ensuring that this was done safely. Without accidents and injuries.
That's why it wanted to support the contractors in creating stronger safety awareness and practices.
The differences between local contractors and the petrochemical group in terms of safety were so great that we decided not to operate from this company, but to set up an independent foundation that we could use as a neutral platform.
It soon became clear that safety interventions from the petrochemical industry did not match the contractors’ organisational context. In large industrial plants, project plans and risk analyses are commonplace. In the construction industry, people work pragmatically: the foreman explains on-site what needs to be done and improvisation is part of daily work life. Safety is hardly the subject of discussion, unlike in the petrochemical industry, where it is always high on the agenda because of the great risks involved.
That is why we started to tackle the on-site conversations and meetings. Typically, these revolve only around the tasks and friendly chit-chat. But the professionals didn't really talk about their work, let alone about safety. What's more, the usual dynamic was that the foreman spoke, and the craftsmen listened. We turned that around. With our help, foreman adopted a listening role and asked questions. First of all about the work, because that's where the enthusiasm of the craftsmen lies: what are you going to do today? Then came the question: how can you do this safely? We developed practical discussion tools with which people could conduct these kinds of conversations themselves.
In addition, we also visited the boardrooms of major players in the system: large contracting companies, the government, employers' organizations... We were able to bring in the micro-level stories and experiences at the macro level, and to explore with these stakeholders what they wanted and could contribute to strengthen safe working in the sector, based on their role.
The new way of conducting conversations on the building site was at first uncomfortable. But when the ice was broken, craftsmen would come up with ideas: "If we have to be safe, we'd better..." Their creativity came to the fore and many initiatives were developed to carry out their work more safely - and often more efficiently.
In addition, the boardroom discussions resulted in the government now experimenting with a coordinated approach to construction safety in the region concerned, in cooperation with the independent foundation and relevant employers' organizations.