What Can Your Organization Learn from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster?

By Scott Gaddis and Graham Freeman

The Deepwater Horizon disaster has left an indelible mark on the field of health and safety. The images and footage of the massive oil rig engulfed in flames and slipping under the water are both emotionally powerful and a searing indictment of the mechanical and organizational failures that led to the tragedy.

The mechanical failures at the heart of the explosion are well-documented. A surge of hydrocarbons overwhelmed the malfunctioning blowout preventer (BOP) and travelled 18,000 feet to the rig, where they ignited and caused an untameable fire that killed 11 workers and injured 16 more. The open well dispersed approximately five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the next three months, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in history. By 2017, British Petroleum (BP) had already spent approximately 62 billion dollars working to mitigate the impact of the disaster, and the coastal communities around the Gulf are still trying to recover from the economic effects on tourism and employment.

Behind the compelling drama of the mechanical failure narrative there are important lessons every organization can learn from the safety culture failures that led to them. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was, first and foremost, a failure of management in which errors, ignorance, and risk were allowed to aggregate in the complex system over time until they culminated in a tragic cataclysm. While the story of the BOP makes for dramatic storytelling, it is the longer and subtler story of organizational failure that holds the fundamental lesson for the safety professional.

In the new Intelex Insight Report The Deepwater Horizon: Learnings from a Large-Scale Disaster, health and safety leader Scott Gaddis summarizes what went wrong in the organizational culture that led to the disaster, how BP could have avoided those mistakes, and what every organization can learn from them. The report examines:

  • how prioritizing cost-cutting at the expense of safety can lead to disaster
  • how increasing automation can put unreasonable burdens on human workers
  • why organizational learning is pivotal for every organization, and
  • how safety culture is a responsibility that begins with organizational leadership.

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About Scott Gaddis

Scott Gaddis leads the integration of the Intelex EHSQ Alliance in thought leadership and building partnerships with top influencers in EHS, working with professionals across the globe to deliver a platform for sharing information and collectively driving solutions that mitigate workplace loss. Scott has more than 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging. Before joining Intelex, Scott served as Vice President, EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, Executive Director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Global Leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

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