Thursday, June 10, 2010

ERM-BC-COOP: Nothing can possibly go wrong, go wrong, go . . .


The headline reads: "Worker killed when natural gas pipeline explodes in fireball "

The video and article under the headline are about the explosion and fire that followed when 14 workers were digging holes for new power lines; a drill bit apparently punctured a buried 36-inch gas pipeline, according to a story on the WFFA tv web site (

One person was killed and 8 others were injured; one seriously enough to require hospitalization.

Most underground utilities are mapped. This particular pipe was 36-inches (diameter) and was pressurized to about 1000 pounds/square inch (psi).

According to the WFFA blurb, "State and federal investigators will now try to determine how the power line workers managed to strike the huge natural gas line in an area that's cris-crossed with underground pipes."

It happens all the time

I have seen telephone lines severed - both copper and fibre.

I know of broached water mains.

This probably avoidable accident follows along.

In all the cuts prior to this one, the problem can be laid directly to the company doing the digging, Someone failed to call "Miss Utilities" or similar service to get a map of underground utilities where the dig was to commence. A simple call and, in most jurisdictions, a call required by statue. The WFFA story did not flatly state that the pipe was mapped, but a pipe of that size and capacity . . .

An a risk manager for an organization the question is: How does that effect me?

First, if you depend on natural gas, suddenly you are without power. How long? It took several hours before the fires were out; how long did (will?) it take to repair the pipe? Until it's repaired and pressure tested, no gas will flow through that line. Admittedly a 36-inch pipe is not going to terminate at a factory or office building, but it serves distribution sites that do serve such facilities.

Second, if your organization was close to the accident site, it might have suffered damage to the facility.

Third, at least for a while, access to the area was restricted; no deliveries in or out, no visitors with orders, no employees coming in or going home.

In short, even though the incident happened to someone else, your organization felt the impact.

It behooves you, as a risk manager, to look beyond the walls of the facility, to look beyond the usual suspects, and consider what is in and around the neighborhood.

Underground utilities. Of course.

But what about airports, sea ports, rail lines, major highways where trucks travel with hazardous materials, or even major arteries that funnel traffic to your door.

Who are your neighbors? Are they organizations that might be unpopular with activist groups - PETA for example. Are they organizations that often have work actions? This is NOT to get into the propriety of the activists or justifications for work actions; the only intent is for you to consider that what happens across the street or down the block CAN negatively impact your organization's operation.

But so can a parade in the neighborhood.

If your neighbor has a fire, will the fire brigade's presence impact your operation. (Of course it will.)

Risks don't necessarily have to happen to your organization to impact it.

As a professional risk manager, your due diligence must look beyond your organizations walls and beyond the "usual suspects" of environment, human "error," and technology.

John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
Hollywood - Fort Lauderdale Florida
JohnGlennMBCI at gmail dot com


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