When Disaster Strikes…

January 20th, 2004 by

When disaster happens, every decision made by management is scrutinized. After a recent oil tanker crash which killed four people on Interstate 895 in Maryland, investigators opened the books on the company’s safety record (below average) along with a careful review of the employee’s driving and health history (inconclusive). While the primary goal of the investigation is to determine the cause, investigators are always looking for a “smoking gun” — the crucial information management should have known but did not; the key steps management or the employee should have taken, but did not. It boils down to “what should you know? What did you know? And what did you do about it?” First, investigators try to determine responsibility (the cause of the accident). Then comes the blame. After a disaster like this one, more than a company’s reputation is on the line. The company’s future is at risk.
In this particular tragedy, we may never know what caused an experienced driver to lose control of his rig, plunge off a ramp and incinerate three other vehicles and their drivers. But the lessons for managers are clear: establish unambiguous standards for your employees. Document your safety and enforcement efforts. And take prompt action when standards are not met.

By the way, it appears that all the victims in this tragic accident were working. Which in turn means that all the fatalities are probably work related. Regardless of what the investigators find, there will be workers compensation benefits paid to the surviving families. In the short run, the individual employers of these victims will see their workers compensation premiums rise as the costs of these claims are factored into the experience rating. If the company owning the tanker is found in any way to be responsible for the accident, there may well be subrogation which shifts the costs away from the workers compensation policies onto the liability coverage of the tanker company. It’s a tangled web indeed. Disasters usually play out in just a few horrifying moments, but the consequences are felt for years to come.