“Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket”. The first time we hear such a saying is likely to be from our parents or our grandparents but it could equally apply to all the applications of risk management. Clearly someone at Sundance Resources forgot this wisdom when its board members boarded a plane in Africa to visit a mining site. The plane crashed and all on board died.
The remaining Sundance executives quickly acknowledged the error in media conferences shortly after the incident even though the decision was understandable. In safety and workplace parlance, the board took a “shortcut” in safety, an act that would have been soundly disciplined for most workers.
Everybody takes shortcuts at work and sometimes these shortcuts lead to injury or death. It is easy to say that the cause of an incident is a specific decision, the shortcut but it was not only the Sundance executive’s decision that contributed to the death. In this instance the board entered a plane that later fell from the sky. If they had made the same shortcut but on a different plane the outcome would have been very different.
Deaths always have a context to them and present a variety of “what-ifs” when we investigate. A specific combination of events/decisions/actions/shortcuts lead to a death. The Sundance shortcut was clearly the wrong decision, at the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong mode of transport but there are more contributory factors that will become evident when the wreckage is fully recovered.
In cold risk management terms, such an incident focuses attention on business continuity planning, but in the OHS context, there is a great many more issues that need attention.
Surprisingly, the BRW magazine in Australia took the Sundance incident as a spur to write about the impact of workplace deaths on companies. BRW has a readership that focusses on financial management and investment strategies, so such an article is rare but the author gets a very good combination of sources for comment.
Mike Hammond of Norton Rose is a strong supporter of restorative justice and, from this writer’s personal experience, has an understanding of OHS practice that many other lawyers cannot be bothered with.
The article states that the Law struggles to deal with the emotional impacts of workplace fatalities but the law will never be able to help in this way, it is not designed to. Necessary support and understanding on workplace death will come from outside, from counselling services and from enlightened safety professionals.
The BRW article also talks with Bette Phillips of the Creative Ministries Network.
The topics in the article will be familiar to most safety professionals but that BRW has produced an article that is not the cold risk management approach, should be applauded. It could be said that the BRW only reports on such issues when executives are involved or when half a dozen executives are involved but credit where credit is due.
What should not occur is that the risk management perspective overrides the reality of the workplace deaths. New OHS laws in Australia substantially increase the interconnection of corporate governance and OHS. Sundance Resources experience may serve as an illustration of that relationship.