The latest Andrew Hopkins book steers clear of analysing corporate leadership, and this is a good thing. Australian National University sociologist, Andrew Hopkins, has established an international reputation for his enlightening analyses of the failures of organisational culture in major disasters but his latest book, Disastrous Decisions: The Human and Organisational Causes of the Gulf of Mexico Blowout, purposely leaves leadership out.
This may disappoint many but Hopkins says that
“The critical role of top leaders in accident prevention cannot, however, be overstated. It is they who must learn from major accidents and, unless they do, nothing can be expected to change.
There is one group of decision-makers that has received rather less attention in accident investigations: office-based engineers.” (page 8)
Hopkins says that
“….this book starts with the engineers, since it was their flawed decision-making that initiated the chain of barrier failures that led to the disaster.” (page 8)
Although I have only just received this book and dipped into it, it seems useful to have familiarity with the Hopkins oeuvre since his Longford books, particularly his book on the BP Texas City Refinery Disaster book. He takes pains to emphasise that the current book does not bash BP. There were several corporations involved in the disaster and this book is more of an investigation of the drilling industry, as a whole.
A preliminary look has shown only a small mention of Montara oil incident in the Timor Sea that occurred shortly before the Macondo incident although many have drawn parallels.
I would have liked to know more about this incident but, in a footnote, Hopkins says
“The Montara report appeared after the Macondo blowout and was therefore not available to the Macondo engineers. Whether they would have read it, had it been available, is another matter.” (page 114)
Instead, Hopkins chooses to mention a blowout in the Caspian Sea in late-2008, which involved BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and others, and early events that occurred at Macondo as well as a “remarkably similar [Transocean] event in United Kingdom waters while completing a well for Shell.” Regardless of years of sharing lessons of loss prevention, oil drilling and offshore safety, the industry still does not learn from incidents beyond their nearby sphere of operations.
Hopkins ends his book on many important lessons but as a safety communicator and a humanities graduate, I was very pleased by his mention of the importance of storytelling.
“Storytelling was one of the most important means of instruction in pre-literate societies. In an era where information is transmitted at ever-increasing rates, taking time to tell the stories is still a vital means of ensuring that lessons are learnt.” (page 177)
I am looking forward to reading the rest of Hopkins’ safety story.