Grenfell Tower Courtesy

The Grenfell Tower Tragedy

The tragic, senseless death of 79 people in the burning of the Grenfell Tower could have been avoided. Last Sunday’s front page of New York Times article, An Accident Waiting to Happen makes it clear.

Accidents are defined as “unforeseen and unplanned events or circumstances (Webster.)

This was no accident.

As Justin Davidson wrote in NewYork Magazine

“There is no such thing as an accident when a high-rise building fails. If gas leaks, wires spark, or a wall crumbles, those are not acts of fate, but the preventable consequence of people not doing their jobs.

As in most catastrophes, there were warnings that were willfully ignored for cost consideration. Glyndon Evans, a fire safety advisor to the fire fighters’ union had testified in parliament about the risk that the cladding that made up the façade of the tower could combust. He said: “If the cladding cannot resist the spread of flames across the surface, it will vertically envelop the building.” That is exactly what happened.

Members of Parliament also petitioned government ministers to reform fire safety regulations that allowed the use of combustible material in the insulation of the exterior façade. They were not listened to either.

Regulators were more interested in reducing the financial burden of the building industry than on protecting its citizens. In this case, the Times of London, citing a leaked email from the management consultant company to the construction company suggesting that using aluminum cladding instead of zinc could save the construction company close to$400,000.

The Grenfell Tower was a home to low-income residents. It would be interesting to find out if the same material has been use for residences of high income individuals.

This was a failure of government leadership.

The poet David once said:
“Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge uprightly among men?
No, in your heart you devise injustice
And your hands are defiled by violence.”

This disaster should serve as a lesson and a warning to all of us.

One of the role of ethics is to prevent ethical lapses that can lead to disaster. The responsibility of an ethics officer in the corporate setting is to look for the warning signs by conducting a risk assessment and then to recommend specific measures to be taken to prevent a calamity.

It may not always easy for business leaders to have to consider worse case scenarios, but it is a necessity to avoid disasters. Thinking of the worst that could happen may be contrary to an optimistic and positive attitude but sometimes naive optimism can lead to foolish behavior. 

Accidents are not always avoidable. However, we should never be negligent and always react to warning signs we witness. Who knows, we may be able to prevent one of those accidents that are avoidable.

As Robert Baden-Powel once said:

“We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.” 

Published by the Markus Gabriel Group


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