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Expert tells sector to end secrecy over accidents

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A CULTURE of secrecy is preventing the engineering industry from learning from disasters, a leading accident investigator said this week.

Giving his presidential address to the UK chapter of the Conseil National des Ingenieurs et des Scientifi ques de France on Monday, David Shillito said that management failings and human error lie behind many of the engineering industry's worst accidents and disasters.

But the desire to avoid blame means that these failings are often shrouded by operators, politicians, insurers and even the police, Shillito said.

He urged engineers to 'break the code of secrecy [in the aftermath of accidents] to help prevent other cockups'.

Shillito was involved in investigating the 1974 Flixborough chemical plant explosion, the Abbeystead water pumping station explosion in 1984, the Herald of Free Enterprise capsize in 1987, the King's Cross fire, also in 1987, the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 and the Clapham rail crash in 1989.

Management failings had featured in all of the disasters, he said. 'The idea of a single cause or even a single chain of events leading to a disaster is fallacious, ' Shillito said. 'Accident investigation involves looking at many interlinking chains of events and determining which events are critical.' Events triggering a catastrophe typically stem from failure to draw up adequate management strategies and failure to follow procedure due to under-resourcing.

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