Safety Supervision in a Multicultural Worksite: thoughts from the NLNG Construction in Nigeria

Between 1996 and 2006, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Plant on Bonny Island, Rivers State, Nigeria was constructed by a consortium of four companies – Technip, Snamprogetti, Kellog B.R. and Japan Gas Company; with the acronym TSKJ.

The 4.2 billion dollar project brought together technicians and professionals in virtually every field of human endeavour needed in heavy construction. It also brought together various peoples of all races and languages, colours and creed from different climes and time zones: British, Canadians, Americans, French, Spaniards, Romanians, Moldovans, and Russians were represented on the project site reputed to be the third biggest construction site going on on earth at the time.

The Dutch, Colombians, Serbians, Korean, New Zealanders, Italians, Belgians, Ghanaians, Egyptians, Portuguese, South Africans, Togolese, Australians and Germans also joined Nigerians from almost every tribe and geopolitical divide, to commence and complete the construction of the now functional gas plant. But of note was one thing: how was the language and cultural barrier bridged? With each of the companies in the consortium originating from different countries, only one language was spoken: Safety!

This is because most interfacing job activities brought together different people from different creeds. Technip was from France, while Snamprogetti, Kellog and JGC were of Italian, American and Japanese origins respectively. It should also be noted that there were a lot of other subcontractors from various nations as well. Daewoo from Korea DR, Julius Berger from Germany, Techint Cimimontubi from Italy, Spibat/Fougerolle from France, EMI from Belgium, B+B from Germany, Prezioso, Dumez also from France; came together with numerous others to work on the magnificent edifice.

On a typical workday, electrical construction work goes on side by side with steel erection, piping, welding, earth/civil construction, scaffolding, blasting and painting. That is normal on any workday on any site with such projects. But there is clearly a language barrier at play here. In an environment where the english language is the official means of communication, yours truly as a safety inspector firstly for an Italian company, Techint Cimimontubi, and later for the consortium TSKJ, I had useful experiences talking through tool box meetings to a group of workers from the Philipines, Korea, Russia, Moldova, Italy, my country Nigeria and France, at one single moment.

Safety signs speak things in a great way. The hazard tape did not need translating. It is the same all over the world: ”Do not cross this area”. The ‘lift boom sign’ was given by a Filipino rigger to an Egyptian crane operator. All he had to do was give the appropriate hand signal. Scafftags with the green on is also the same in meaning, globally. The radioactive substance sign falls in the same category of oneness in understanding for all and sundry. Safety glasses, and other basic Personal Protective Equipment are used on all construction sites no matter where it is located, as an inexcusable standard.

Thus it was easy to point to one’s own eyes to let someone else know that he/she had to have his/her safety glasses on as required. Safety knows no tribe, clime or creed. It is universally accepted as the language of construction.

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