Today I had an interesting encounter with a colleague from the Health & Safety department. I went to meet him to talk about a specific project but rather than discussing the details, he started with asking me about myself and my background and then proceeded to inquire if anyone has previously talked to me about safety. He then asked me to tell him about what are my impressions of the attitude towards safety in Brazil in comparison to other places I have lived in. I had some difficulties with answering the question; first because I felt quite uncomfortable about this sudden interview, and second because the question was hard to answer.
What I had figured out later was that this colleague was trying to use some psychological tricks with me in order to get me more engaged with the topic (the little he knew..) by showing he is concerned with my safety (interdependence). We ended up having a very long discussion about culture and how it affects people’s behaviors in general.
My one observation about safety was that the Brazilians have sort of a “whatever” and “I will deal with this post-mortem” attitude about safety hazards (as was evident in a recent fire in a night club that led to a death of 200+ persons due to a serious of negligent behaviors). Aside from this, even when people know that things are wrong, no one wants to be the guy who raised the flag. This is not socially acceptable or appreciated at all. For example, try asking a taxi driver to drive slower – he would get mad at you for questioning his driving skills (I have previously had them raise eye-brows at me for even putting a seat belt). There is also an overall disregard for individual life from the authorities which is reflected in a grossly shocking disregard of providing proper sanitation services (aka sewage), fixing sidewalks or having properly marked crosswalks or regulation of public transport. And people are so used to this dismissive attitude from the government, that they just don’t bother questioning things anymore.
I had a hard time thinking what should be the personal attitude of an american culture towards these sorts of things. The only thing that kept coming into my mind was litigation. I think in the USA government and companies take better care of safety because they don’t want to get sued for damages, rather that because they care more about safety. This type of thing drives education of individuals to be more careful, etc.
We were left with the dilemma of whether or not it is possible to change our employee’s mindset and behavior given that they are a product of the Brazilian culture and daily reality.