Is your organisation at risk from Titanic Syndrome?

Posted by Jonathan Pile on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 Under: Health and Safety
Titanic Syndrome is a "state of mind where an organisation or a leadership believe in the invincibility of their risk controls in direct opposition to the facts". In 1912 - HMS Titanic's ship makers and operators had believed in the construction of one of worlds largest, most modern, and certainly luxorious ships they also had one of the safest ships in the World. It was this false belief which underpinned the lack of concern about about inadequate safety measures (such as having fewer lifeboat places than passengers) and the failure to ensure the watertight compartments extended all the way to the bulkhead. An over-reliance on the new techonology of the day (in this case telegraph) which would report weather and iceberg conditions and bring rapid help in emergency re-enforced the syndrome. Indeed - the nearby ship SS Californian took a different set of measures upon ice alerts and stopped to prevent collision, unlike the Titanic which maintained it's maximum speed. A simple risk assessment of Ice Collision might have suggested a more southernly route, or a slower speed to avoid the ice berg fields in the icy coastal waters of Canada.

Similar catastrophic safety syndrome failures might be equally seen in disasters like the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987 (the routine time-saving proceedure of closing the stern doors after sailing)

 or NASA Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster in 1986 (the O-rings failure)

 or the assumptions concerning the Safety of Japanese Nuclear Reactors in the face of the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 (building Nuclear reactors in an earthquake zone)

Titanic Syndrome can be found at the root of my accidents and safety failures which expose Businesses to risk of loss, injury and prosecution. An easy remedy to this is to make the Risk Assessment process open and transparent to all stakeholders - especially those with dissenting views such as Trade Union Safety Representatives, and Safety Consultants from outside of the Organisations mindset.

Business is inherently risky and while insurance can mitigate losses of many kind, reputational loss resulting from publicity caused by safety failures can undermine the future of a business model. Driving for Work is a commonplace business risk which sadly injures 100 people a week, any driving accident could easily lead to serious reputational loss and prosecution if negligence is proven or pressure of work such as rushed delivery or work pressure lead to speeding or dangerous driving. In 2009 a Road Haulage Company was fined £50,000 and faced prosecution for Manslaughter (accquited) following the death of a Wiltshire couple in a road crash in 2007 involving one of the companies articulated lorries.

Just like the Titanic legal compliance to the letter of the law at the level of bare minimum is the modern equivalent to having the legally required number of lifeboats (which the Titanic did) but operating in a totally unsafe, dangerous and negligent way. In 2008 HSE Spot inspections led to the stopping of work on 30% of the inspected Construction sites due dangerous failings "putting lives at risk". Of the 400,000 HGV drivers in the UK Meg Munn MP suggested that perhaps some 40,000 might be affected by the sleep disorder OSA which might expose companies and other drivers to the risk of accident

Compile Consulting can supply OSHCR registered Health and Safety Consultants as well as provide IOSH Accredited Health and Safety Training for your organisations key managers to help to prevent such syndromes taking root and exposing your company to catastrophic or endemic loss.

(c) Compile Consulting 2012

In : Health and Safety 

Tags: titanic syndrome  health and safety  herald of free enterprise  space shuttle  japanese nuclear plant safety  small business safety compliance