Friday, March 2, 2018

Profit and Safety …
a High Wire Balancing Act

So, do you know who Don Blankenship is OR why you should even care? Blankenship was chief executive of Massey Energy and believed to be the first chief executive of a major US corporation convicted in federal court for essentially putting profits ahead of safety. As a result, Blankenship spent 12 months in a federal prison and halfway house.
The basic goals for almost any company are to provide a fair return to investors and a safe work environment … a balancing act to be sure. So what happened?

The event leading to Blankenship’s conviction was an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in April 2010, killing 29 workers … the worst US coal mining accident in 40 years. A subsequent independent investigation condemned Massey for multiple failures to meet basic safety standards, operating “it’s mines in a profoundly reckless manner.” According to this independent investigation, Massey neglected safety precautions for the purpose of increasing profit margins. Thousands of safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine in the years prior to the explosion certainly appear to support this conclusion. Blankenship was ultimately charged with conspiring to violate federal safety laws and making false statements to investors and regulators. He was subsequently convicted of the conspiracy charge. In handing down his sentence, the presiding judge said Blankenship had abused the trust of Massey’s shareholders, its officers and its employees by putting profits ahead of safety.

So by now,  you may be asking what does this have to do with cyber security and more importantly ... you?

This illustration demonstrates the importance of balancing a return to shareholders while also providing a safe and secure work environment. Think of the Flying Wallendas, just like them, you’re constantly in motion to maintain balance. Lose balance and the result can be devastating! Our world is constantly changing so there are many factors involved in balancing profit and work environment.  Focusing on cyber security may reduce some of our profit margins but if not considered it may devastate our work environment and ultimately our company. So, pick up the balancing pole because whether you know it or not, you are on the high wire!  Think it through.

By Greg Hudson, PE