The Weekly Reflektion Week 51 / 2020

The streetlight effect is a type of observational bias that leads people to search for something where it is easy or convenient to look. As well as being less of an effort it can give the feeling of doing something productive. It is however no excuse the day a Major Accident happens on your site.

Do you only search for problems where it is easy to look?

The streetlight effect is illustrated in the famous joke.

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”

The anecdote is often attributed to Nasreddin Hodja, philosopher or Sufi, from the Eskişehir Province, in present-day Turkey. He was renowned for his amusing stories and anecdotes and there is a festival named after him that takes place in his hometown 5 – 10 July every year. We at Reflekt really do believe in the power of the story to convey an important message, make people think and perhaps make that difference that will help to prevent a Major Accident.

On the 20th April 2010 four executives from Transocean and BP flew out to the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The rig was drilling for BP on the Macondo prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. The executives had a tour around the platform and discussed safety issues, mainly workplace safety, with the crew. Safety harness tagging, falling object prevention, anti-slip surfaces were among the issues raised. The executives also praised the crew on their safety record and presented an award for 7 years without a lost time accident. While the tour was ongoing the crew were struggling with the cementing and leak testing of the well. The executives inquired how the work was progressing and were told there were some problems lining up for the test. Later in the tour one of executives asked how things were progressing and was given the thumbs up. Just afterwards the well blew out, 11 workers lost their lives and the rig eventually capsized and sunk. Perhaps if the executives, who had drilling experience, had inquired more rigorously about the problems they may have identified some of the eventual causes of the incident and helped to prevent the blowout. Perhaps if they had informed of the Bardolino well in the North Sea on the 23rd December 2009, only 4 months earlier, where a Transocean rig drilling for Shell encountered similar problems as the crew were experiencing on the Macondo well. The Bardolino well also blew out however this time the BOP closed and stopped the inflow. 

Irrespective of the reasons why you may visit a site you should be considering major accident prevention. Even if the light is shining on occupational safety you should take a step into the darkness and feel your way around potential serious incidents. Ask ‘what is the most hazardous operation you have ongoing?’, take some relevant serious incidents with you for discussion. Don’t just focus on the slips, trips and falls.

Reflekt AS