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Could BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill been prevented if workers on the oil rig had felt more empowered to report problems? That’s a question raised by Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, in an interesting column recently published by Bloomberg Businessweek.
In his Bloomberg Businessweek column, Wartzman quotes an MIT Sloan Management Review article by John Shook, “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI,” on the topic of allowing workers to stop production when they see problems. Wartzman then goes on to conclude:
“Why didn’t anyone on the Deepwater Horizon rig intervene before it was too late? Based on the evidence that has emerged so far, it appears that some may have tried to sound the alarm, but higher-ups disregarded them. In other cases, it seems that BP and Transocean workers felt themselves under tremendous pressure to save time and money, despite claims by the companies that safety always comes first. Some have even suggested they were afraid they could lose their jobs for making a stink…”
If Wartzman is right that there’s a connection between job insecurity, pressure to cut costs, and employee unwillingness to speak up about risks and problems in the workplace, that doesn’t bode well for reducing risky workplace conditions — in all kinds of organizations — during a period of high unemployment and corporate cost-cutting.