Black swan or blind spot? The duality of extreme events
A black swan is characterised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb [Ref. 1] as an event which:
1. Is a surprise (to the observer), an 'extreme outlier'
2. Has a major impact
3. Is rationalised by hindsight, as if it could have been expected
Balancing personal and system safety
Holding the handrail and putting lids on cups of hot coffee will not prevent major accidents. That is the message coming through loud and clear in the aftermath of recent disasters such as the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005, the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout in 2010 and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011. Disasters don't happen because someone slips down the stairs or bumps their head. They result from flawed ways of doing business that allow inappropriate risk control.
Chronic unease – the hidden ingredient in successful safety leadership?
Leaders working in high hazard industries are faced with a difficult personal challenge: how do you avoid complacency about major accidents such as a nuclear release, oil spill or train derailment, when such events rarely happen? How do you not 'forget to be afraid'?
Leadership matters – safety as a value?
The previous issue of RISKworld focused on the things that leaders need to do right to assure major hazard safety. Whilst a list of things to do can be insightful for a motivated leader, the list simply adds to things that a leader already has to do, whether commercial, technical, human resources, etc. For example, traditional safety leadership tends to focus on what to do rather than addressing what may be considered to be 'deeper drivers' of safety leadership, such as holding safety as a value.
Major hazard safety leadership
Investigations into recent major accidents, such as the Texas City refinery explosion, the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout and the Fukushima nuclear accident, all highlight the importance of effective leadership in preventing disasters in the major hazard industries. But why emphasise leadership and not management? What does a leader need to do differently to assure major hazard safety as opposed to personal safety?
The integral safety leader – thinking about the whole
Put yourself in the mind of a line manager responsible for the safety of personnel. You have been warned of many deficiencies in a part of the business, including a strong indication that a significant accident has a worryingly high potential. How do you begin to think about this problem?
Boom or bust – the impact of low oil prices on process safety
"We know from past experience how low oil prices impact upon business thinking about process safety - and it's not good". That's how Judith Hackitt, the chair of the UK's health and safety regulator, described the impact of a low oil price on process safety in early 2015 (Ref.1). A recent report from Marsh (Ref. 2) would appear to support Hackitt's claim, with a telling graphic showing the historical occurences of major losses compared with the oil price (see above).
Improving efficiency in safety in a cost-conscious world
Every industry cycles through periods of favourable and unfavourable economic conditions. The petroleum industry, for example, having enjoyed several years of high oil prices, is today reeling from the impact of prices not seen for six years and at levels that are lower than the breakeven cost of many ventures. The inevitable response is to cut operating costs and delay investment in new projects, which all makes for gloomy headlines and the harsh reality of people losing their jobs. But with the gloom comes the opportunity to improve the efficiency of operations, something that is rarely a top priority when budgets are plentiful and there is huge programme pressure.