Here’s another guest blog submission from Neil Chapman: (note–Neil is in London so he uses UK spelling)
The lesson is – learn lessons
If anyone works for an organisation where accidents can occur and they own an iPod, they should subscribe to the video casts from the US Chemical Safety Board. No iPod, then just visit the CSB’s on-line video room. Its library of safety films makes for compelling viewing. Nearly all of the films contain a good-guess simulation of what the CSB believes occurred leading up to an accident they have investigated, depicting how the tragedy likely unfolded – usually leading to death and destruction.
In a recent press release ‘CSB Investigators to Examine Scene of Fatal Ohio Oilfield Explosion’ chairman John Bresland says: ‘Our team will seek to determine if there are similarities between the accident in Ohio and previous cases involving welding in the vicinity of flammable storage tanks.” A previous case that occurred June, 2006 in Mississippi is depicted in one of the safety videos, ‘Death in the Oilfield.’ The implication is that lessons could have been learned and perhaps the later accident avoided.
Sifting through the CSB’s video library shows just how unpredictable we human beings are. The seemingly obvious may be far more complex when it comes to accidents. However it can take a thorough investigation to piece together the tragic story of what went wrong – and even then there may be unanswered questions.
The CSB offers many safety lessons to learn, and some communications ones. They help explain why organisations are tempted to ‘hunker in the bunker’ in terms of communication when accidents happen. In those early moments there are usually few facts about what or why the accident has happened on one side, yet on the other too many reputational risks and the potential to get things very wrong.
But communicators know that saying nothing has the potential to make events even worse. No comment is a comment in itself. It says whatever the audience wants it to mean; uncaring, guilty, callous, inept, untrustworthy …the list can be long. What it doesn’t say is ‘ cautious’, compassionate, concerned. It doesn’t say ‘trust’ nor does it say ” while we may not know the cause of an accident for a time, we are anxious to learn any lessons and will share those to ensure others can learn them too and perhaps prevent another tragedy.”
The lesson is: take the opportunity to learn as many lessons as possible, particularly from others. Take a look at the CSB videos for one.