The Weekly Reflektion 23/2022

Walking the talk is an expression that is often used to emphasize the importance of management living up to what they say. ‘Actions speak louder than words’, is used in the same context.

Putting out the last of the fires at the Texas City Refinery in 2005

What does walking the talk mean in your company?

We would like to thank everyone that attended the ‘Listen and Reflekt’ 1st June 2022. The subject for was Learning from Incidents. . Also, thanks you to everyone that participated in the discussion and contributed their own reflections. If ‘learning from incidents’ had been easy, then we would have fixed it a while ago. The offshore petroleum industry is a challenging recipe. The ingredients of fallible people with their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, complicated systems, dangerous materials andhazardous environments that combined shall not be a recipe for disaster. It’s challenging, however as Trevor Kletz once said, ‘we know how to prevent disasters, it’s just a case of applying the knowledge’.

The credibility of the management is often determined by the actions that they take to back up the words spoken. This is also true for safety. Statements like ‘Safety is our first priority’, ‘safety first’, ‘nothing is more important to us than safety’, are often made to promote the importance of safety for the company and the senior management. When the organisation connects actions taken to the statements made then the management are considered to be ‘walking the talk’. The actions may be technical, operational and/or organisational, the important point is the perception that these actions are positive for safety. 

Sometimes the management makes other types of statements that communicate an objective and then emphasize that safety should not be affected by the work to achieve this objective. ‘We are downsizing the organisation, however the downsizing will not affect safety’. ‘We are merging with another company and the synergies are expected to result in a significant cost reduction, however safety will be unaffected’. In these statements a change is proposed, and assurance is given that safety will be maintained. ‘Walking the talk’ in these circumstances becomes extremely important since the changes proposed will be perceived as a threat by many people in the organisation and the uncertainty created is a safety issue in itself. 

When BP merged with Amoco in 1999 one of the objectives set in the Refinery and Marketing Division was a 25% reduction in costs for refinery operation. The senior management emphasized that efforts to cut costs should not compromise safety. The Texas City Refinery already had significant safety and process safety challenges. There had been several fatal accidents and the outdated vent system for pressure relief on the isomerization unit had been identified for replacement with a remote flare system. Safety at the Texas City Refinery was arguably already compromised however how could increasing the budget to bring safety up to standard be justified in the regime of 25% reduction. On 23rdMarch 2005 there was an explosion at the Texas City refinery that killed 15 people and seriously injured 200. The BPAmocomanagement did not ‘walk the talk’ on compromising safety. They did however ‘walk the talk’ on the 25% cost reduction. Praise was given to the refinery managers that met their cost targets and anyone that voiced their concerns on achieving cost reductions were frowned upon. 

How do you ‘walk the talk’ when the objectives may be conflicting?

Reflekt AS