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Safety Considerations

October 11, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 41

ACS National Election Ballots

Ballots for the American Chemical Society’s fall 2010 national election were mailed to members on Sept. 24. If your ballot (mailed in a white envelope with a red banner marked “Vote!”) hasn’t arrived within two weeks, you may request that a duplicate ballot be sent to you by calling VR Election Services, Customer Service, at (800) 218-4026, Monday–Friday, 8:30 AM–5 PM central time, no later than Nov. 5, or by sending an e-mail to the help desk at You can cast your vote electronically or by traditional mail-in ballot. The voting deadline is close of business (5 PM CT) on Nov. 12. Election information on all candidates can be found at Those who have not voted will receive e-mail reminders from VR Election Services.

I give safety lectures to personnel in oil refining. After discussing a series of fatal incidents, I conclude that a common root cause is GAWILT syndrome. Like drunk drivers, people Got Away With It Last Time, so they “blatantly disregard well-known and accepted industry procedures and their own safety guidelines.”

The worst kind of GAWILT infects managers and planners. 
I once watched in amazement as a midlevel engineer won 
approval for a shortcut aimed at reducing downtime by two weeks, saving $14 million. My colleagues and I objected, citing safety concerns and potential equipment damage. The engineer ignored us because in the past he had gotten away with disre­garding warnings from “alarmists.” Indeed, the shutdown was two weeks shorter, but the restart was delayed four months due to the failure of untested equipment, including an emergency shutdown system. Thanks to the skill of our operators, nobody died.

The creative engineer was rewarded with a one-level promotion. In essence, he risked our lives for a 5% pay bump. For insider trading, corporate executives go to jail. Executives whose GAWILT syndrome causes fatal incidents are killers and should be treated as such.

Paul R. Robinson
Katy, Texas


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