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Shutdowns and spiders! Grangemouth dispute

Two incidents have caught my eye this week. One is the closure of the Grangemouth petrochemical site in Scotland. The dispute centres around the owners Ineos claiming that they are losing £10m a month. They want to renegotiate the workers terms and conditions in order to turn around the lossmaking plant and make an investment of £300m to modernise it. The unions have been locked in a dispute with the owners and rejected the company’s “survival package”, which would have resulted in a change in pension and a loss of various overtime perks and bonuses. The struggle between the union Unite and the owners is almost an old style ‘management vs the workers’ dispute, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1970s. At the time of writing the workers had rejected the management’s offer of a survival package and because of this, the owners have decided to shut down the photochemical site with the loss of 800 direct jobs and possibly the same number of contractors. The fate of the refinery, which has a similar number of workers, remains in the balance.

I have my own opinions on the rights and wrongs of this dispute but the bottom line is that numerous companies, who have been supplied products from the petrochemical plant, will lose their products and have to find alternative supplies. As the petrochemical plant alongside the refinery provides 8% of the Scottish GDP then there will be many companies affected by this shutdown.

We have talked a number of times in this bulletin about the need for someone in the organisation to identify their organisations key suppliers and then to monitor them. I hope in this case that the business continuity manager was aware that their organisation was supplied from the Grangemouth site and have taken action in response to the possible loss of a key supplier.

Another aspect of this incident was the very common “group think’ of the unions involved. The company said quite clearly that if the workers rejected the survival package then the plant was closed. They must have thought the management were bluffing so the Unite union asked the workers to reject the package. It seemed to me that if there was an over capacity of refining and petrochemicals worldwide and that the company is losing money, then there must have been a chance that the Ineos where not bluffing. When the workers rejected the offer there seemed overwhelming surprise that the company did as they said. The latest move from the unions was that they have decided to accept completely the company’s survival plan and have de facto accepted the company’s survival package which two days before they rejected.

The “group think” in this incident to me is that the unions convinced themselves that if they rejected the offer they would get a better offer from the company. For me there is a very big lesson for us business continuity people. That is, always think worst case scenario, just because you convince yourself the company is bluffing, it does not mean they are. You as the business continuity manager have to promote the unthinkable because in this case the unthinkable happened.

The second incident concerns spiders. There is a school of business continuity, I personally think is rather old fashioned, that takes a scenario-based approach to business continuity. So they will have a loss of power plan, a flood plan and a fire plan etc. As we all know the problem about this type of planning is that there is always a new threat that they haven’t thought of yet. Enter the False Widow Spider, Britain’s most venomous spider, whose presence in Dean Academy in the South of England was enough to close down the school, while the building was fumigated and the spiders all killed. Nobody has died from a bite and there have, as yet, been no reported deaths from its bite in the UK. Symptoms from a bite from the spider can cause severe swelling, chest pains and tingling of fingers, with the severity depending on the amount of venom injected. Some information on the magnitude of the risk came from Gloucestershire spider recorder David Haigh who said people would have to be “very unlucky” to be bitten by one as they do not move very quickly and are not aggressive.

My point is that, I am sure nobody has a plan for a venomous spider infestation in their place of work, but it can happen. Most of us, who have generic plans, do have plans for denial of access to our premises which could be caused by white power, an accident or a venomous spider and so our plans would have coped with this incident. It is worth noting that this would make an excellent denial of access scenario for an exercise, especially if a member of staff or two was bitten. Then there is the opportunity to bring in the whole human aspects of incidents into the exercise.

Two lessons here. Always avoid group think as the worst case can happen and the next incident is always the one we have not thought of.

We hope to see you all at the BCM World Conference and Exhibition, which takes place on November 6th and 7th at the Olympia in London.

About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

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