Riblet#3: Sins of Omission

How do you know that you have considered everything?

In a risk assessment, one tool you can use is a risk universe.  A risk universe is a list of the potential risks that your organisation, or a similar one in your line of business, might face. The risks are organised into categories such as financial, operational, people, and strategic.  Under the people category, you might find sufficient people, sufficient competence, colleague engagement, and colleague safety, for example. When you are performing a risk assessment, the universe can serve as a checklist.  But it doesn’t mean you won’t have missed something important.

Prior to gaining approval for drilling in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, BP had to produce a risk assessment report.  It stated that marine life would survive any oil spill by swimming away or metabolising the hydrocarbons, although they might experience “some stress”.

In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded producing the largest oil spill in history.

What the risk assessment had missed out was what became its real legacy.  The assessment had only considered adult marine life, and words like “eggs”, “larvae”, “foetus” or “juvenile” were absent.

Two years after the disaster, fishermen noticed that the numbers of young fish in the Gulf of Mexico were drastically reduced, and the same went for for young shrimps, oysters and crabs.  Most of the female crabs caught by fishermen had no eggs in them.  And the marine life that had survived had high levels of toxins which seemed to explain the loss of fertility.

This impact was not very visible, but it all became clearer when baby dolphins started dying en masse, dolphins that would have been in their mothers’ wombs at the time of the spill.  Those that weren’t still-born weren’t strong enough to survive.

Next week, we’ll look at an alternative way of making sure you don’t miss something big.

Data Sources: This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein, Wikipedia

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