Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions

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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) Continue reading “Latest Andrew Hopkins book focusses on engineering decisions”

Safety leadership and culture require accountability

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At the recent Safe Work Australia Awards, the Minister for Workplace Relations had a dig at “safety culture“, according to an article from the National Safety Council of Australia.   Bill Shorten said :

“It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.”

This has been interpreted by some as Shorten disparaging the advocates of safety culture.  I agree that safety culture can be used as a euphemism for “Act of God” and therefore take no preventative action but safety culture is not designed by Gods, it is designed and implemented by Chief Executive Officers and Boards of Directors, often under the rubric of “leadership”. Continue reading “Safety leadership and culture require accountability”

The social context of OHS laws is being poorly handled

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Australian lawyer Michael Tooma is mentioned regularly in the SafetyAtWorkBlog, mostly because Tooma is one of the few who consider workplace safety in the broader social context.  In The Australian newspaper on 10 February 2012 Tooma wrote that new work health and safety laws being introduced in Australia present

“…a march … into the traditional heartland of the public safety, product safety and professional liability territory, and it brings with it a criminalisation of what was once an exclusively civil liability domain.  The new laws did not invent this trend, they just perfected it.”

Right-wing commentators would jump on this and declare “nanny state” but it is vitally important to note that this trend of “protectionism”, or the “compensation culture” as described in the United Kingdom, did not originate in occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  The OHS profession, business operators and workers will need to learn to accommodate and manage this social trend that has been imposed.

Tooma writes that ”

“…we have not had a proper debate about the incursion of the laws into nontraditional areas and its impact on the resources of firms, regulators and ultimately work safety standards.”

The debate may already be over. Continue reading “The social context of OHS laws is being poorly handled”

Transocean executives gain safety bonuses

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News that Transocean are awarding their executives substantial safety bonuses has the internet aflame with outrage.  Certainly it seems hard to justify the bonuses given after the death of 11 workers and the damage to the local environment, economy and community but the action will also affect safety management.

 Safety management is increasingly relying on statistics to identify performance levels.  Transocean’s actions illustrate that some statistics bear little relation to reality or, at least, the real-world context of its operations.

AFP  quotes Transocean as reporting to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that:

“Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate and total potential severity rate” Continue reading “Transocean executives gain safety bonuses”

Operational Risk Management – a timeless book, sadly

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For several years now Mark Abkowitz’s book “Operational Risk Management” has been sitting on my “to-read” shelf.  Given my recent wish for a case study approach to leadership and given the Fukushima nuclear issues, the book caught my attention.

Books that analyse disasters are far superior to watching real-time disasters because the distress is minimised, the analysis can be dispassionate and time can provide a more detailed context.  (The quickness of production of some of the books about the BP/Gulf of Mexico suffered from the curse of topicality)  Books provide a distance that the constant exposure to “disaster porn” does not.

Operational Risk Management looks at many at many disasters from the last 30 years but the disasters are not only industrial and process disasters, although Chernobyl and Bhopal are covered. Continue reading “Operational Risk Management – a timeless book, sadly”