Cultural intelligence and health and safety

I have been thinking about the needs of health and safety professionals. A growing number are approaching me about the need to gain and use cultural intelligence – a term I’m slowly coming to terms with and in honesty, have taken for granted until now. I see cultural intelligence as understanding cultural norms that can be used to improve worker health and safety. My interest is with Māori cultural norms and Māori worker health and safety. All of the professionals I’ve spoken with wan

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Photo by Luca Nardone on

t to know how to better engage ethnic workers. I tell them, even if you could achieve that skill level, the workplace systems will still have to be in-sync with the cultural norms. The adage “lip service” may ring a few bells. To overcome that mindset, verbs have to outdo nouns – in other words workplace systems will have to connect with the cultural norms that best effect worker health and safety. That’s hard to do from a cold start.

If I was to reverse engineer the above, it would look like rapport plus reconcile equals resonate. I’m sure others would change the order of factors, but the scenario remains the same. The professional would access some form of cultural intelligence to build a meaningful rapport with the worker and then reconcile the best parts of that rapport with the workplace systems. Then, there is an opportunity for the systems to resonate with the workers. Some call this fit for purpose. I definitely see this effort beyond conventional worker engagement, participation and representation.

Next month I’m conducting a simple case study. I’ll be testing my formula with Māori workers in a high risk industry. I won’t be doing too much in terms of interventions or systems. And I am hoping to get some very simple findings out to you by the end of the year.

Author: VK Walker

I am wanting describe a model for indigenous safety culture. As a PhD student I am interested in health and safety research including cultures, diversity and the use of traditional indigenous knowledge to inform modern health and safety practices. I am also a New Zealand Government Health and Safety Inspector.

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