Whenever something bad and newsworthy happens to a facility that resembles your facility, it’s time to communicate with your stakeholders.
When I started drafting this article in mid-June 2017, the news was full of stories about London’s deadly June 14 Grenfell Tower fire. While much is still unknown about the fire’s causes, it may have spread so quickly up 24 floors because recently added exterior cladding was not fire-resistant. More expensive fire-resistant cladding would have been required in the U.S. and some other countries, but apparently wasn’t required in the U.K. and wasn’t used when Grenfell Tower was refurbished.
Imagine you lived in an apartment building anywhere in the world that has the same or similar cladding. You would immediately want to find out whether your home faces the same fire risk as Grenfell Tower. Knowing that, what, if anything, should apartment managements have said to their residents about the Grenfell Tower fire?
I don’t know how many apartment managements put out some sort of announcement about their cladding in the wake of the fire. In a brief Internet search I failed to find any such announcements.
I did find news stories with titles like “London fire: Grenfell Tower cladding ‘linked to other fires’” (BBC) and “London tower fire could happen here: Australian buildings cloaked in flammable cladding” (The Age). The stories I found quoted safety and fire-fighting experts, government records, planning agency officials, and worried residents. I didn’t see any quotes from apartment managements.
So are apartment managements biding their time, waiting for the results of official investigations before communicating with their residents? Maybe. But my best guess is they have no intention of ever talking to their residents about the Grenfell Tower fire unless local activists force their hand.
In this context, it’s worth noting that the Grenfell Tower fire was not a one-off. The same or similar flammable exterior cladding had been blamed for previous apartment disasters in other cities, including Melbourne and Dubai. I don’t know whether the London authorities responsible for Grenfell Tower took note of these precursors. If so, they didn’t talk to their residents about them … just as apartment managements haven’t talked to their residents about Grenfell Tower.
I think they should talk. And so should you in comparable circumstances. Whenever something bad and newsworthy happens to a facility that resembles your facility, it’s time to communicate with your stakeholders—with employees, neighbors, journalists, and whoever else is likely to notice the resemblance and start to worry.
I’m going to make a case in this article that good risk communication requires talking to your stakeholders about somebody else’s potentially relevant accident—proactively, even if nobody is asking awkward questions and demanding answers. But I have to concede at the outset that this is a minority opinion. I can’t find anything in the literature that agrees with me. In fact, I can’t even find literature that disagrees with me. Apparently it’s such a weird idea that nobody even debates it.
And I fully realize that many readers of The Synergist probably identify with the apartment managers on this issue. It’s easy for an industrial hygienist to sympathize with another industrial hygienist employed by an organization where something has gone badly wrong (perhaps because top management ignored the IH professional’s pleas for higher safety standards). It’s hard to feel okay speaking out about what went wrong without knowing the whole backstory.
So it’s a controversial question: When something goes wrong at somebody else’s facility that’s similar to yours, what, if anything, should you tell your stakeholders?
Talking about Somebody Else’s Accident
Could It Happen Here?
Disadvantages of being unacclimatized:
  • Readily show signs of heat stress when exposed to hot environments.
  • Difficulty replacing all of the water lost in sweat.
  • Failure to replace the water lost will slow or prevent acclimatization.
Benefits of acclimatization:
  • Increased sweating efficiency (earlier onset of sweating, greater sweat production, and reduced electrolyte loss in sweat).
  • Stabilization of the circulation.
  • Work is performed with lower core temperature and heart rate.
  • Increased skin blood flow at a given core temperature.
Acclimatization plan:
  • Gradually increase exposure time in hot environmental conditions over a period of 7 to 14 days.
  • For new workers, the schedule should be no more than 20% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1 and a no more than 20% increase on each additional day.
  • For workers who have had previous experience with the job, the acclimatization regimen should be no more than 50% of the usual duration of work in the hot environment on day 1, 60% on day 2, 80% on day 3, and 100% on day 4.
  • The time required for non–physically fit individuals to develop acclimatization is about 50% greater than for the physically fit.
Level of acclimatization:
  • Relative to the initial level of physical fitness and the total heat stress experienced by the individual.
Maintaining acclimatization:
  • Can be maintained for a few days of non-heat exposure.
  • Absence from work in the heat for a week or more results in a significant loss in the beneficial adaptations leading to an increase likelihood of acute dehydration, illness, or fatigue.
  • Can be regained in 2 to 3 days upon return to a hot job.
  • Appears to be better maintained by those who are physically fit.
  • Seasonal shifts in temperatures may result in difficulties.
  • Working in hot, humid environments provides adaptive benefits that also apply in hot, desert environments, and vice versa.
  • Air conditioning will not affect acclimatization.
Acclimatization in Workers