Changing attitudes and leading by example
When it comes to safety, there is no room for compromise. It is therefore invaluable to work with people that approach Heath, Safety, and Environment (HSE) with the level of rigour that heeds attention. People like Nahida Basu. After 15 years of working both at corporate level and on construction projects from Algeria to Scotland and Oman, her passion for what she does is unrivalled. The awareness of the impact her work has on people, unmatched. And recognising the importance of leading by example in safety, she is no stranger to doing the same when it comes to attracting young talent to our industry.
Nahida, safety is something omnipresent in our lives, especially in our industry. But what would you say is your main goal as an HSE Manager?
The goal, in its simplest form, is to go home at the end of the day. We can always go back and finish our work. But if someone gets seriously injured, or even loses their life, there is no going back. Ours is a hazardous industry, so we cannot avoid the more challenging work environments. If we must work on heights or in confined spaces, we can’t avoid that. My job is to make sure the work is caried out safely and plans and procedures are being implemented and respected. And if they’re not, to change people’s behaviours so they work safely. To this end, I provide operational support to sites and work on corporate HSE strategies.
We could argue that changing behaviours in people who have decades of experience is not the easiest thing to do. How do you approach this challenge?
It is the pedagogy vs. andragogy argument. If I tell a child how to do something they have never done before, the child will learn the correct way easily. If we tell someone who has 30 years of experience to do something differently, or to not do something at all, we are talking about changing attitudes and this is not easy. We need to make people understand why this is important. We must all understand that even though accidents don’t happen every day, when they do, there is no going back.
How has the safety culture changed in our industry over the past 15 years?
It has changed drastically. We had to challenge the status quo and say to people: ’No. This is not the norm. No one has to get injured or die.’ We had to raise awareness and empower people to challenge. We witnessed a whole generation of leaders taking shape. Leaders that accepted responsibility and accountability and realised safety is not only taking care of yourself but making sure everyone you work with is safe, and everything you do is safe. With this change in attitude came a drastic reduction in injury rates.
Today, if you look at performance of any Petrofac employee, the first thing on their scorecard – regardless of whether they work in an office in Sharjah, or at a project in Algeria – is safety. Safety comes first.
"To my surprise, everywhere I went I was met with great people who showed so much respect for me as their colleague. This brought me great encouragement. I might have heard that this job is not for women before I joined the industry, but when I joined, I realised this was totally wrong. "
Can you identify a moment in your career at Petrofac that you are particularly proud of?
At the beginning of every Petrofac project, we run an HSE Bootcamp, an intensive course that I helped develop and roll out. When I was in Algeria facilitating this training, one of the site managers came to me and said: ‘This is the first time in my 30-year career that I actively want to change something about me and my behaviour when it comes to safety’. I have heard similar comments in the years to come many times, but that first time made me feel so proud. You can police people or push them, but the change must come from within.
Looking back at more than a decade and a half of work at Petrofac, is there anything you would do differently? Anything newcomers could learn from?
When I first joined, everything I did was in the corporate environment, and I wish I started in projects sooner. This is where I found myself, and where I think I could make the biggest contribution.
This leads us to a topic that we as a company are very passionate about – becoming a more inclusive workplace. How do we get young female candidates interested in joining our industry and our company?
There was a feeling of resistance in me when I first joined, and I was not sure how it was going to play out when I start travelling to projects. To my surprise, everywhere I went I was met with great people who showed so much respect for me as their colleague. This brought me great encouragement. I might have heard that this job is not for women before I joined the industry, but when I joined, I realised this was totally wrong.
To attract people, male or female, we need to show them examples, and I am an example myself. We need to show that there are people like me at Petrofac and that regardless of your gender or your circumstances, if you have the right attitude, you want to be successful, to grow, there is nothing stopping you at Petrofac.