Safety comes first Storytelling: The Best Business Story I’ve heard in 2014

My work gives me an opportunity to listen to a lot of good business stories. So naturally, I add those good stories to my story bank by writing the key details and tagging them with the most important point.

However, sometimes I come across a business story that makes me want to work with the person that’s telling the story. This happens when the incident being narrated exposes the entire fabric of the storyteller’s character. I will share one of these stories with you. This was told in a recent Business Storytelling session that I had conducted for a multinational Oil and Gas company. The task was for participants to tell a personal value story.

Pandai, one of the participants, shared this story and he has helped me to edit this written version too. Thank you Pandai.

I build LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plants for the company I work for. It’s a hard job, but the most important part of the job is to stay focused on the safety of the people I work with, and I have learnt to make the safety of my people my most important value because of an experience I’ve had.

At that time, we were building an LNG plant in Egypt. It was just a normal working day. We had about 5,000 workers onsite and were busy catching up with progress in the work. One of the workers was welding a 60-inch pipe on the main piperack. A 60-inch pipe is so huge that you can actually walk into it. For whatever reason (we suspect he wanted to inspect the weld from inside) this worker went inside the pipe but he never came out.

The next moment another guy went inside the pipe to have a look. Mind you, as per the procedure, no one should go into a confined space like a pipe without a special permit, and in some cases, breathing equipment, but in the panic to work out what had happened to his co worker he went in and he never came out as well. By this time, the crowd onsite was building up and people were getting worried. In the worry, panic and stress, a third guy went in and he did not come out too.

A dear friend of one of the workers in the pipe was there and he wanted to save his friend, but the crowd stopped him. He was a large man so he managed to push people aside, made his way through and went into the pipe. He too never came out. One after the other they all never came out of the pipe that day. Finally, staff with proper safety and breathing equipment went into the pipe and found four dead bodies lying in a row.

A normal process whilst welding a pipe is to flow inert gas on the welded area so that it will shield the weld from oxygen and water vapour to ensure the quality of the weld. Inert gas has no oxygen. When the workers went inside, they inhaled inert gas without any oxygen, asphyxiated and collapsed.

That evening, we had the post mortem of the incident. The construction manager who was a big American guy we nicknamed “Wild Bill”, a true Texan cowboy who had a larger than life personality, was clearly choking and in tears when he addressed the project team. I can still remember his words. “My job tonight is to knock on the door of this guy’s house and tell his 7-year old son that his dad is not coming home. You don’t want this job.”

I learnt a lesson that day which was – if my 5,000 workers come onsite, it’s my job to make sure that 5,000 people come out that day. And I don’t want to lose a single person. So, the safety of my team is most important to me, as their leader, their friend, and also the person entrusted by their family to take care of their safety.”

After I heard Pandai tell this story, all I could think of was my 7-year old daughter and the fact that if there is someone who will get me back to her safely every day, it is this leader. So, I want to work with him. This to me was a remarkable example of how leaders build trust and loyalty without blowing their own trumpets and commanding authority.

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