Ignoring Impending Disasters - Why do the warning signs go unheeded?

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

Does this sound familiar? You identify a major issue looming over the horizon, one that might injure people or the environment, damage the company’s reputation, cause long-term financial liabilities, or even offer a competitive opportunity. You raise the alarm, offer a plan of action and…nothing is done. You have probably been there; I’ve been there many times.

This scenario happens so often that I suspect it is the underlying reason that environment, health, and safety (EH&S) professional meetings and publications focus so much attention on how to build convincing business cases. Yes, we probably bear much of the responsibility for not communicating our recommendations clearly, but there are other factors in play. While we may have limited control over these other dimensions, it helps to understand and factor them into our strategic plans.

No surprises
In the wake of disasters such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Columbia space shuttle breakup, and BP’s Texas blast, there has been a surge in business literature that dissects the systemic and psychological contributing factors.1 In each case, there were numerous, timely warnings that something  was amiss, but the warnings were ignored. A bridge just does not suddenly collapse across the Mississippi River; there are always telltale inspection reports claiming that it was “structurally deficient.” Why then don’t those ultimately responsible act to avoid disaster?

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