The movie Deepwater Horizon provides a dramatized account of the tragic 2010 BP oil rig fire. Of course, there is much action and flames, but before all the explosions the movie sets up the almost inevitability of an accident.

The project was 40+ days behind schedule so the BP executives were anxious to finish the drilling and move the rig to the next site. As a result, they cut corners and skipped the “cement test” that would have highlighted the failed integrity of the main pipeline. When a faster test was demanded by the crew chief, executives convince the others that the perilous readings are so far out of line that they must be the result of a false gauge instead of ominous implications. (They weren’t.)

Throughout the project, the rig is beset with mechanical failures that the crew “bandaids” together to keep things functional, but when safety features are needed, they aren’t working. A warning is sounded but instead of resulting in crew action, they respond with “It’s that faulty alarm again.”

Ultimately, the entire rig was engulfed in flames and 210 million gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico as it gushed out for 87 days – becoming the worst drilling disaster in history.

The Deepwater Horizon serves a lesson to pay attention to the safety plans. The preparations and testing often get pushed aside in favor of pressing, immediate concerns but they should never be taken for granted. Your work may be routine – until it’s not – and the efforts you made before the trouble play a large role in how you come through it. (While 11 lives were lost, amazingly, 105 people survived because fortunately, the evacuation plan was the one thing they did get right.)

The movie also drives home the point about not ignoring evidence. It may be tempting to rationalize abnormal data, ignore frequently-malfunctioning alarms or to buy into alternative explanations from those in authority – but think long and hard before discounting what is in favor of what is supposed to be.

Your work may not be as dramatic as life on an oil rig – in normal or extraordinary times – but you should approach your safety plan and response to warnings as if your life depended on it, too.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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