For the vast majority of time, companies and organisations work well without incident. However, we are tested when a real emergency occurs and we are suddenly dealing with the unexpected. The emergency services deal brilliantly with such things all of the time. For the rest of us, we can suddenly be faced with a crisis, and although we may have planned and practised for this, dealing with the real thing is very different.
We have two excellent examples where in a crisis everything was perfectly dealt with, and not just by one company but several organisations having to interact successfully across boundaries at no notice.
Just a week ago on a Saturday evening, one of our Directors was on the point of boarding a long-haul flight in New Zealand when he got an urgent call to say that his wife had a life-threatening medical problem and was in an ambulance being rushed to hospital. Emirates airline were amazing, not only getting his bags off the plane, but also helping him back through customs and immigration and even finding him a hire car.
Meanwhile, he contacted the TOP-SET team back in Scotland who dealt all the other urgent organisational problems on a cold frosty evening, including working with our travel specialists, Reed & Mackay in London, to rearrange flights and then also contacting a major client in India to cancel and rearrange the planned work with our Director. Everything worked. Everything worked because all plans were in place and possibilities had been thought of in advance. Most importantly, after immediate medical intervention, his wife is recovering well.
Some years ago, we investigated what was about as close to an offshore fatality as you can get. A young man had fallen and received serious head injuries on an oil rig under tow in the English Channel. His colleagues immediately contacted Falmouth Coastguard and a rescue helicopter was dispatched. Meanwhile, colleagues on the rig were doing a trial walk with a stretcher from the medical room to the helideck. When the helicopter arrived, it was a force-ten gale, and through the amazing skills of the pilot he landed on the pitching rig on the first attempt. The casualty and a supporting colleague were loaded, and the injured party arrived at Southampton Hospital Neurosurgical Unit in nineteen minutes. Thanks to this and the skills of the surgeon a life was saved.
When we investigate incidents, or categorise incident findings, we are inevitably dealing with following Indicators. This suggests that we normally only look at and learn from what has gone wrong; yet here we have examples of everything being right in extreme situations. Clearly both examples were about preparedness and teamwork. We need to investigate incidents that have positive outcomes, and learn from what went right, not wrong.
By systematically identifying the factors that were ‘right’, we can endorse and replicate that learning. That realisation helps to create confidence in our ability to identify ‘risk’ and to put control factors in place. Investigation can often carry ‘dark’ or negative connotations, but by realising that it can be used proactively to analyse what went right, allowing potential consequences to remain just that, ‘potential’ rather than actual, we gain confidence incrementally in the robust nature of our process.