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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training


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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes

ACCIDENT: It wasn’t MY FAULT

Whose fault was it then?

After any industrial accident or failure, even a minor one, absolutely no-one likes to admit it was their fault. The strange thing is that this is not just wishful thinking; we are constructed to actually believe that it wasn’t our fault which is how we find it so easy to deny that it could have been. If you bump your car into a stationary car in a car park then it’s because the other car was badly positioned, or you were distracted by people walking by, or because your passenger was obscuring your view. Maybe there’s some evolutionary advantage to be gained by being conditioned to think like this (individual self-preservation perhaps?) but either way that’s how things seem to work.

It was you

Could it be a group’s fault?

At first this sounds like a better answer. Although a group or department is made up of individuals, it has a separate identity to the individuals in it. Admitting collective responsibility for the refinery explosion or nuclear accident (yes we’re talking big deals here) doesn’t seem quite as hard as admitting it was all caused by you alone.

Unfortunately group dynamics has a built-in resistance to this sensible-sounding idea. It has to, because if no-one in the group believes it was their fault, then how can the group, constructed entirely of fault-free individuals, possibly be to blame? Multiple rights will never add up to make a wrong.

Someone has to answer all the questions

After any failure or accident there are lots of questions to be answered from within the organisation involved and also from those investigating from outside (HSE, insurance companies, legal parties and so on).It is just possible that group answers might placate some of the internal question-askers (they have an interest in the cohesion of the group also remember) but once outsiders get involved things are different.

The HSE and other enforcing authorities know, pretty well, the best way to find out things. They ask their questions to individuals. You are sat by yourself with the interviewer with no-one from your group there. They do it like this so you can’t hide behind the identity of your group and also that it has no chance to influence what you say. It’s back to being just you, the individual. If things progress further and criminal charges or civil proceedings are brought these just as likely to be levied at individuals as they are at corporate bodies. Sometimes they are easier to prove and enforce that way.

someone has to answer the questions

After all the questions, who gets the blame?

This is up to you. If you think that accident and failure investigations, and all their questions, are an enquiry, a search for the technical truth, then the blame must never fall on anyone, because all individuals are telling the truth as seen by their own eyes.

If however you see these investigations, and their questions, as an exercise in confrontation (the basis of the UK legal system) then the blame goes to the party that puts up the weakest defence with  the others walking away scot-free.

This weakest defence thing is worth thinking about if you are in any way involved in a serious failure or accident

Do you know what causes every single engineering failure?...read our article ;The cause of all accidents 

Do we learn from failures? Read this linked article

Can we help you further?

We will be pleased to hear about interested experiences you’ve had with engineering equipment failures. Our contributors been involved in technical investigations; plant guarantee claims and legal disputes in many fields so always find them interesting.

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