Media waiting for ‘single cause’ for Croydon tram tragedy… They’ll wait. And wait…

A tram crashed in Croydon south of London on the morning of November 9 when it failed to negotiate a bend and left the track, tragically resulting in the loss of seven people’s lives.

A bulletin on a BBC news programme this morning, a day after the incident, caught my attention.  It said that a ‘single cause for the tragedy was yet to be identified’ and focused coverage on the driver who they reported ‘may have fallen asleep or blacked out’.  Like references to ‘pilot error’ all media covering transport crashes want to rush to the conclusion that it was the ‘nut behind the wheel’.

On the strength of this, I’m tempted to offer a ‘101’ course on incident causcheeseation to reporters.  I’d probably start by rolling-out the tried and tested James Reason model, fondly called the Swiss Cheese Model.  It shows slices of holey Swiss cheese, that represent a series of barriers:

  • organisational influences
  • supervision
  • preconditions
  • specific acts or omissions

If these are in place and functioning normally, they will prevent an incident.  They all need to fail in order for a hazard to result in a loss or incident.

But what has this to do with the media?

Well, I think that while journalists want to wrap a story up quickly along the lines of ‘suspected pilot error’, they may be missing the chance of being more rigorous, incisive and systemic in their reports, as the story develops.  Understanding the ‘Swiss Cheese model’ and applying some basic root cause analysis principles would help them get to the heart of the story and may inform the questions they ask and the people they may want to speak to. Eyewitnesses and survivors are essential interviewees, but once they’ve been interviewed, trying to speak to other people in the company may also be productive.  And even if they can’t get them to talk, knowledge of incident causation can open up productive avenues for reporters to investigate: company culture, cost savings, redundancies, audit frequency etc.

Getting to the root cause is what investigators do – and nothing is stopping journalists from taking the same approach.  IF the tram was going to fast – why? IF the driver blacked out or fell asleep – WHY?  Was it shifts or rostering, or another reason? Are there cost pressures? How is the company trading and so why might someone want to save money or speed up operations?  Who may have wanted to save money or provide a faster service?  That’s likely a management decision, so how far might this be a local management problem, or a more holistic issue affecting more than one tram, train or plane operated by the company?

I’ve worked as a reporter reporting on disasters, as a crisis manager for a corporate and as a health and safety leader and consultant.  So, in a way, I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper, but my main concern has morphed into working for the prevention of incidents in the first place.

Just as an incident happens through a series of failures, I’m convinced there are multiple contributions to a safer society. The safety professional or regulator won’t solve these issues on their own. In this context, the media does play a critical role in holding companies’ and governments’ feet to the fire on safety.  So if companies consistently faced the prospect of an incisive media with a real grounding in the principles of health and safety management, it may drive a greater diligence around risk management by more companies.  If this results in one fewer injury or fatal incident, then it will have been worthwhile.

Photo thanks to Ciel Bleu

License

About adamroscoe

Brit in Switzerland - always welcome a professional challenge; it's the best way to grow and learn. Currently into fourth career: 1] Journalist, 2] Public Relations and Corporate Communications, 3] Sustainability, HSE, business ethics and crisis management [4] Consultant for 2 and 3 above. Trained as a journalist when it was normal to type reports on a typewriter before entering public relations and issues management consultancy and from there joined chemical company ICI plc as head of communications for one of its divisions. Migrated to Switzerland in 2001 for a job with the communications department of a Fortune 500 company, concluding in communications as head of corporate comms. Assigned to reinvigorate and grow the company's sustainability function, specifically focusing on improving health, safety, security, crisis management, environment and human rights around the world. This background has given me an ability to embed sustainable business practice and true, two-way engagement into the business strategy. I also try to assimilate as much complex information as fast as possible, before processing it and developing strategic recommendations, backed-up by practical proposals on implementation. Interests: photography (see flickr! link on this site), learning more about the 'post-fact era', cooking, wine and classic cars. Twitter: @tontkowalski
This entry was posted in Safety and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Media waiting for ‘single cause’ for Croydon tram tragedy… They’ll wait. And wait…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s