January 28, 2011

Lessons of the Challenger Disaster

Keeping quiet about a problem can lead to disastrous consequences. Study these lessons. Break the silence.
As many safety heroes know, it often takes enormous persistence and courage to take leadership for safety...and overcome indifference to a wide range of health and safety issues.  See Feed Your Heroic Imagination
Deadly space lessons go unheeded  Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia tragedies have much in common, By James Oberg NBC News space analyst  ..."But the internal hazards -- what investigation boards have called the "flawed safety culture" -- have proven much more insidious. This is the realm of convenient assumptions, of complacency, of willfulness, of use of statistical superstitions, of a false familiarity with an unblinking foe. It is a culture made possible by an all-too-human aversion to facing unpleasantness. It has become easy to look away from these horrible space disasters -- and I never call them "accidents," a term that relieves the people involved on the ground of ultimate responsibility.

See Eliminating Cultures of Silence  "Sadly, before each disaster, stake holders saw clear warning signs for catastrophe and yet they said nothing. Trends show that similar cultures of silence proliferate in organizations across the country....The good news is that organizations who successfully handle these five issues transform cultures of silence into cultures of honesty and effective communication—eliminating potential catastrophes and saving lives."

Teachers who enforce safety rules not only avoid accidents in school but they give their students the skills and attitudes necessary to safeguard their future families and co-workers and "to live safer healthier longer lives."  (Jim Kaufman, Lab Safety Institute

... Silence begets silence. The bigger the silence, the more powerful it is. Silence can become so  all-encompassing that one is not even aware of it.  In such instances, entire constellations of thoughts, questions and conversations simply do not arise.  Or, if they do, the pervasiveness of the silence makes them seem dangerous. Perhaps the last person who tried to break the silence got in trouble, perhaps she became a pariah, perhaps she lost her job. --  Beyond Erin Brockovitch By Sonja Biorn-Hansen, in Rachel's Environment & Health News #815, http://www.rachel.org/?q=en/node/6438.  Sonja Biorn-Hansen an Environmental Engineer with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

"...those normally charged with protecting a school from liability (and its occupants from harm), ...may not be familiar with the scope of the risks. Too often, people with only a cursory understanding of the issues will consider themselves experts. Familiarity may also be surprisingly limited among those to whom a school generally turns for advice on health issues, such as school nurses, industrial hygienists, HVAC companies, consulting firms and health departments ...More often than not, they will under-emphasize the risks and over-emphasize the costs (and the inconveniences) of responding to a perceived problem."  "Legal Aspects of Pollution in Schools," Earon Davis, The Healthy School Handbook, National Education Association, 1995.

Press Release: New Data Shows Schools Ignore Children's Health: Groups Urge Action by EPA and States    Healthy Schools Network Executive Director Claire Barnett warns, “Parents are stunned when they discover schools have known about environmental factors affecting their child and have done little or nothing. Then they learn that no agency responds either. Every effort should be made to intervene when children are in harm’s way.”