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Deepwater Horizon and The Suppression of Risky Conversations

The release on October 6 of the movie Deepwater Horizon( ) brings to the surface some of the discourse that dominates the risk and safety industry. Whilst the movie focuses on the heroics and heartache typical of a Hollywood Disaster movie, it nonetheless highlights some critical issues for Safety.

One small aspect of the disaster is discussed by Dr Long, Craig Ashhurst and Greg Smith, as a case study in the video series Risky Conversations, The Law, Social Psychology and Risk ( ) – and shown below. This video, from the 22 video series, has been made publically available to coincide with the release of the movie. You can purchase the book, talking book and access to all 22 videos here:

In the Risky Conversations video Greg and Rob highlight some of the hidden cultural and social-psychological aspects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In particular, Rob and Greg focus on:

· Safety as the focus on trivial, petty risks

· The distortion of what constitutes legal liability

· The logic and ethic of zero as motivation for

hiding and under-reporting

· Disproportionality in the way humans understand risk

· The problem of hubris (systemic institutionalized


· The collective unconscious in institutionalized blindness

· Leadership blindness to by-products and trade-offs in decision-making

· The problem of zero harm ideology, pyramids and curves

· The Safety mentalitie

· The semiotics of risk

8. Deepwater Horizon from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

What Greg and Rob highlight in their risky conversation is some of the cultural values and practices that ‘ran under the radar’ on this project. Indeed, the Deepwater Horizon disaster serves as a great lesson in how safety orthodoxy suppresses risky conversations.

We can all the talk about zero as if there is no by-product, have all the binary focus on numerics as if there is no trade-off and yet there is a trajectory but it is hidden. The discourse of ‘zero harm’ is a critical formative factor in the way hubris was enculturated on the Deepwater Horizon project. Zero is not a neutral ideology but rather is a discourse that has a trajectory with disastrous consequences. This idea that zero is ‘just a word’ as if it has no semiotic value or no archetypical power flies in the face of all that is symbolized in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

You can see photos of the disaster here:

You can download the final report on the disaster here:

You can get an overview of the investigation here:

A brief review of the movie is here:

The bottom line on all of this is the safety and well being of our people. Take a minute to really look at your business and the risks to which employees are exposed. Your action, or inaction, could change the quality of someone's life.

If you need help in looking at your risks or an assessment of your business risks, just give us a call. Our 'in house' OSHA Certified Trainer for General Industry can provide an inspection at no charge to you or your company. We truly believe in every employee going home safely every night. Contact Glenn Salter at 909-481-7222 or email at We will help!

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