Insights · 13th of May, 2024 · 1 minute ·

PEAR: A safe learning environment can ease the pain when an incident happens

Environment. It is – dare I say – the hot topic across the news, and one that many feel extremely passionate about.

It would be easy to think environment relates only to land, sea or air, which is obviously a major component of any incident for energy companies. But it goes beyond that.

To me, environment means the wider situation. Let me take you into the world of emergency response exercises…

They are realistic scenarios played out over the course of several hours, with situations ranging from people being injured, assets experiencing issues and external factors such as unexploded bombs being uncovered on the seabed. Everyone involved in a real-life response is there, with experts in HR, logistics, human resources and communications among those represented.

I recall one exercise, so remember, none of what follows happened for real, which focused on a leak from a well. The well was 4km away from the platform and because it had been shut off and there was no knock-on effect to the asset, they decided not to shut production down.

While I am in no doubt that decision was made with the best of intentions, I am also in no doubt that had news of the company continuing to produce when a well connected to the platform was leaking, it would have resulted in a stream of negative headlines. And rightly so.

They didn’t have to shut production down, but they would have been deemed to have been putting profit above all else, regardless of whether there would have been a risk to the wider climate or the people on board.

Thankfully that’s the beauty of exercises. We can make mistakes and learn from them. Above all, they are a safe learning environment.

Those involved in responding thought they were doing the right thing for the company, but by taking into account the advice of the comms expert, they were protecting the company’s reputation.

The decision to shut down production even although it wasn’t a requirement would have sent a message and shown how transparent they were being.

And that is an absolute must. Gone are the days of trying to brush something under the carpet. The risks that come with attempting to mislead far outweigh any positive outcome.

In the UK, the Post Office Horizon scandal is a prime example. The truth has been out there for years. It’s just that not enough people knew about it until the ITV drama series at the turn of the year. It was at that point the public really became aware of what had gone on, and the court of public opinion was well and truly in session.

The Post Office’s social licence to operate is in question, and the unravelling of the story just goes to show that people’s opinions matter. Stories matter. How they are told matters.

There can quite often be greater repercussions in the court of public opinion than there are in a court of law.

Companies need to be honest and avoid panicking. I listened to a podcast featuring the Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis recently. He explained how he receives dozens of requests for media interviews, but despite being a regular commentator, he actually turns down a lot of invitations because he is only prepared to comment on areas he feels qualified to talk about.

It should be the same with a crisis situation.

If you can’t comment with certainty, don’t comment at all. Sometimes we all need a bit of Ronan Keating in our lives. Yes, Life is a Rollercoaster, but sometimes you say it best When You Say Nothing At All (in a way).

Saying “We are working to ascertain all the facts and will provide more detail when it becomes available” is still giving media a comment they can use, which is better than not saying anything.

There will be situations you find yourselves in where you have already lost – all you can do is get the messaging correct. With environmental issues being at the top of many news agendas, you are not going to be able to avoid talking about it. And don’t even think about saying “no comment”, that just screams guilt.

Say something without saying something, and the environment in which you are operating might just be a bit cleaner.

Insights · 13th of May, 2024 · 1 minute ·