After partnering with numerous companies to implement global ergonomics processes, we’ve established some best practices when launching a process outside of North America. Here are some things to consider:
Although you may find that plant leadership and engineers know English, to get that “bottom-up” support from the hourly workers, you should have all relevant training materials, forms, posters, etc., in the local language.
You may find that the expectation for speed of implementation differs. The “get ‘er done” mentality may be replaced with “get-to-it-later”. This may include responding to emails, soliciting bids, or implementing a fix on the shop floor. At a higher level, there are different mile markers that different countries/cultures go through on their way to formally internalizing your (North American) corporate guidelines. Be patient and adjust your methods to be in line (while not tolerating non-compliance) with how your facility typically operates.
One of the factors that may influence the speed of implementation is official international guidelines. Specific to ergonomics, the U.K. guidelines on VDTs (video display terminals) may slow the adoption of your office ergonomics program. Or the new Federal Regulation of Occupational Health and Safety in Mexico may mean that you have to take a few extra steps to verify that your ergonomics program meets what is required by the Mexican government (it likely will).
As in North America, involving key stakeholders is important. I worked at one particular facility in France where three separate unions were represented. Go out of your way to make sure that the goals and objectives of the plan are clearly communicated.
One Lump or Two?
In just about every place I have worked outside of America, the coffee or tea break is sacred. Make sure you respect this, and take advantage of this time to bond with your local contacts, learn more about how things work, and answer any questions they might have. (They might choose this time to ask you questions, since in some cultures, it is rude to question the facilitator in a group setting.)
The fundamentals and key elements of a sustainable ergonomics initiative are universal; but sometimes you need to tweak your approach to a local flavor (e.g. flavour) to ensure success.