Safety within oil rig culture: Deciphering intercultural miscommunication among offshore petroleum workers



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Miscommunication and lack of preparedness can be lethal combinations for those involved in the petroleum industry. Effective communication amongst supervisors and crew and preparedness for risks involved with offshore life can alleviate these risks, but not without a certain amount of buy-in from the stakeholders involved. The effectiveness of this buy-in leads to concepts of mutual respect, teamwork, the role of language, and cultural sensitivity, especially among multiethnic workforces. Discovery Oil (DO), a synonym for the actual company name, is a global entity in terms of gas and oil extraction. The company’s reputation for safety has led to the malleable safety initiative of Closer To Zero (CTZ), which includes a multi-genre approach of (re-)training sessions, posters, corporate newsletters, a card game, and training videos. In order to research the effectiveness of CTZ among DO’s offshore subordinate workforce, I explored literature within intercultural communication, risk communication, genre theory, and visual rhetoric. Ultimately, I triangulated my 28 onshore and offshore interviews, analyzed my copious quasi-ethnographic field notes, and analyzed 16 CTZ print and video documents in order to answer my research questions. Most interviewees indicated a nebulousness of the receiving of CTZ materials. Although management views this ambiguity of CTZ as a positive attribute, this same aspect confuses speakers of English as a foreign language. After analyzing my data, I discovered a lack of readability for intended audience; lack of English proficiency amongst DO offshore subordinates; evidence of translation teams amongst offshore subordinates; lack of supervisor consistency in addressing language issues; lack of consistency in supervisor approachability; evidence of confusion with CTZ’s message of intervention; evidence of proliferation of safety message back home; and evidence of proliferation of CTZ message at work.



Intercultural communication, Risk communication, Genre theory, Visual rhetoric