Communicating for safety and in emergencies

How do pipeline engineers communicate the details and implications of regulation and safety issues, and how do you communicate with stakeholders when things go wrong?

Pipelines have regulations and safety considerations that a varied range of people need to know about and understand. Communication is not simply the preserve of your communications department, and so here are four communication angles you should think about.

First, who are these regulations for? Second, how do you get the messages across clearly? Third, and probably the most important, how do you know what has been understood? Getting this one right can help prevent the last one.

The fourth consideration? If things go wrong, what processes are in place to get messages, facts, data, and information out, and to whom? There will be internal considerations and stakeholders (who can be both internal and external) for a start. Then there will be the demands for facts, transparency, and speculation from the media, the public, NGOs, and perhaps national and international governments.

In this fourth case, you cannot simply rely on your communications and public relations departments. They will need expert guidance and information from somewhere – you, probably. There will also need to be at least one plan in place to deal with this fourth consideration, where the first and most important rule is “don’t speculate”.

What are your communication options then in these four areas? Definitely not another Powerpoint! Presentations to a group of key people in relevant areas of responsibility aren’t always the best way to communicate. In fact, getting these people together either physically or on a conference call may be impossible.

Nor are e-mails, motivational e-posters, or hi-tech, TV-style videos necessarily good choices. None of these particularly address the two key points that you need to be sure of: has the person (manager, a sub-contractor’s team, a particular worker in a particular field) at the end of this message actually been told anything, and understood the message.

Thus process of communication needs to be part of your organisation’s normal culture. And remember, too, that “÷communication’ does not simply mean sending out orders from the top to the bottom.

What does that leave us with as a means of getting these vital regulations and safety considerations to the right people, and knowing that they have been understood? One easily achievable way is to use online training for all workers and sub-contractors. The reason “÷training’ is employed – and not simply “÷communication’ – is that online testing, measuring, and assessment is easily built into the process. This is an important way of finding out who has understood anything or, more critically, who has not. With those results you can act on deficiencies anywhere in the organisation’s structure, and it is also easy to build-up an information resource which is accessible all the time, and which is easy to keep up-to-date.

Think outside departmental boundaries: think of training as communications. Then think about the “÷wealth’ that can be created in this process in various ways, including financially. How can it be wealth-creating to train your immediate stakeholders – personnel, agents, contractors, and sub-contractors? What’s the return-on-investment (ROI)? Here are some ideas, and they centre around that current buzz phrase “÷continuing personal development’ (CPD).

CPD companies can help bottom line, and help with those first three factors mentioned at the start of this article. The benefits fall into three broad categories: cutting costs, satisfied personnel, and communication.

Costs can be cut because trained staff will know how best to carry out work and will understand why there are certain practices and targets. What’s more, trained staff can contribute to further ideas, targets, plans, and training. They will require less supervision, which increases trust and responsibility. Training staff online saves the costs of bringing them all, or even just their managers, to one location.

Satisfied personnel understand the product, the process, and their role, thereby enhancing their morale and sense of involvement. They are more likely to stay with you, and your contractors are more likely to as well, which cuts the costs of finding new personnel or contractors.

Remember that communication can also be training, and one of the greatest benefits here will be that it can help ensure the discussion of details at all levels, thus avoiding costly mistakes further down the line.

Online training and communication, and encouraging the CPD of those with whom you work, and who work for you, are among the best long-term investments an organisation can make.

The form the communication and training takes depends upon your corporate culture and to whom you are talking. But, overall, we are visual creatures. We take in around 90 per cent or more of our world by seeing and looking. In a foreign country would you rather see a road sign explaining in foreign words that you are near to driving over a cliff, or would a picture of a car going over the cliff be of more immediate help?

In answer to the earlier point then, no, this isn’t just another Powerpoint. A range of information sources can be used, including video and animated graphics, voice narration, interviews, photos, and written text. Not all may be necessary or appropriate, but they are there if desired.

Simplicity also applies in the fourth point, the crisis scenario, where the most important commodity is “÷facts’. No jargon, no acronyms, no speculation – i.e. no smoke and mirrors. There are various theories of how to deal with a crisis (waves, streams, multi-plans, stakeholder strategies, the Chinese “÷danger-opportunity’ analysis, having a “÷tool kit’), more than can be dealt with here.

However, if you have managed to carry out communication points 1 to 3 effectively, you have gone a long way toward being prepared for point 4. And “÷prepared’ is the crux here. In one crisis-simulation training day at a multi-national gas pipeline consortium we had to call off the exercise after only two hours because the system wasn’t “÷prepared’. The second attempt was a great success, though.

In our experience, “÷preparation’ means both people and systems. One cannot function without the other, whether it’s dealing with natural disasters, terrorism, hostage-taking, or industrial espionage. “Preparation is likely to avert a crisis in the first place”, according to Angus Miller, former Energy Advisor at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and now on the board at security management specialist Quinsec in the UK.

The rule of all communication and training is: keep it simple. Remember, it’s not just about what you want to say, it’s also about understanding who’s listening. Online training as communications is a far-reaching and flexible tool for preparing all levels of your organisation, and the results are tangible.

Show more

Related articles

Back to top button
Close