In Disastrous Decisions and Failure to Learn Andrew Hopkins presented excellent examples of management making it clear bad news is unwelcome and the importance of a proactive or mindful culture. 




He described meetings about cuts that would finish with management asking, forcefully, “Any problems with that? No? Good – get on with it then.”

Several commentators have suggested that Sky Atlantic’s Chernobyl is the best drama series ever made and it features countless scenes where bad news was suppressed aggressively. Worse, concerned technicians who were told “just effing do it”, despite their concerns, and were then screamed at when things went wrong. 

This powerful, indeed terrifying, drama adds little to the canon of films about major incidents from which we have learned huge amounts – Spiral to Disaster about Piper Alpha and Major Malfunction about Challenger spring to mind. The message at its core is, if you cut corners to save money and/or have political posturing as your core KPIs, people will get hurt. 

The avoidability and root cause of events are mortifying. The investigation found that technicians did challenge the local management team – but the managers needed tests rushed through and signed off because they’ve already pocketed the awards and bonuses attached to completion. Cheap materials were used and the dynamic between the KGB and the investigation team is chilling. 

Admissions to the outside world were driven entirely by necessity because, for example, dangerous readings were recorded as far away as Scandinavia. The local town was evacuated only when children in German schools were kept indoors. Even then Moscow continued to lie about anything it could lie about. The official number of fatalities continues to be downplayed. 

The only positive was the sheer bravery and sacrifice of some of the key players who went willingly to the site to help, knowing they’d be dead within years – and the hundreds of workers who’d be dead faster than that.

A memorable scene, possibly fictional but certainly illustrative, is when the leader of the miners is presented with a face mask. (The miners’ utterly heroic work stopped the meltdown reaching the water course which would have meant, at best, the evacuation of tens of millions). The miner tosses the mask back to his superiors with the curt observation, “Huh, if these worked, you’d be wearing them.” This is a superb drama even if you have no interest in safety. It’s utterly essential viewing if you have.



Dr Tim Marsh CFIOSH is a chartered psychologist.
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  • Totally agree with the a

    Permalink Submitted by Dave Carrick on 29 August 2019 - 12:41 pm

    Totally agree with the above. Do we have shades of this in NHS, or Council work where money has been withdrawn for roads causing potholes and dangerous surfaces, and unsafe pavements, poorly marked roads etc all leading to injury/serious stuff eventually!

  • Thanks Tim - I hadn't co

    Permalink Submitted by Dave Taylor on 29 August 2019 - 03:29 pm

    Thanks Tim - I hadn't considered watching this - but I will now. I studied The Russian system of control and history for years, If you understand their history both pre and post revolution, Its understandable how slow attitudes are changing there, but we can only hope for everybody`s sake.

  • This is a must

    Permalink Submitted by Chris Coates on 2 September 2019 - 10:26 am

    Hi Tim.
    This is a must see for any Safety professional and any member of the public to ensure we keep the authorities who manage these facilities accountable and competent.

  • Could not have put a rev

    Permalink Submitted by Alan Anderson on 30 August 2019 - 01:41 pm

    Could not have put a review any better.
    In my opinion its a great example of how a negative culture can do serious harm to all.

  • Unsupervised operations

    Permalink Submitted by Brian Edmonds on 6 September 2019 - 02:32 pm

    Unsupervised operations outside a zone of competence are inherently dangerous.

  • Thank you to all for com

    Permalink Submitted by Tim Marsh on 6 December 2019 - 12:04 pm

    Thank you to all for commenting. As you observe there are enduring lessons her in our 'post truth' world. In particular the effect on our mental health of recent societal changes and innovations needs consideration and challenge. It sometimes feels like the whole world is in melt-down.


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