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Case Study: Bhopal Gas Tragedy - Communication Failures #1

On 3 December 1984, a runaway reaction had occurred in a storage tank of methylisocyanate (MIC), which was used to manufacture a pesticide. The valves of the tank had burst, and a cloud of poisonous gas had escaped. The winds carried it to nearby shanty towns and the populous city of Bhopal, where thousands of people either died in their sleep or woke and died while fleeing. Those who survived suffered from burning eyes and lungs. Local medical facilities were not equipped for the disaster, and over the next few weeks thousands more died.

Due to production problems, the plant was under a great deal of pressure to cut costs. A number of shortcuts had thus been taken with such items as crew training, staffing patterns and maintenance schedules. The original procedure called for upto two years of training for employees in critical superintendent capacities, but the plant operators had received about a month long training, using classroom materials developed in the US and printed in English.

Perhaps most importantly at the time of the tragedy, the staff did not realize the gravity of the situation and even took a break for tea after the leak had been noticed, thinking they would have plenty of time to fix it. The operator in the control room did not notify his supervisor when the temperature began to rise inside the tank and the entire situation remained unattended for at least an hour.

Mr. Warren Anderson sitting in the US, as CEO of Union Carbide, needed to know exactly what had happened in Bhopal. He knew that he would have to explain the tragic accident to the employees, to the government officials in both the United States and India, to the courts, and to the people. Yet, he could not get answers to his own preliminary and personal questions. When telephone contact failed to yield answers, he got on a plane and flew to India, where he was immediately placed under house arrest - unable to attend to the very business that had brought him there. His plant managers had also been arrested and were not allowed to talk to anyone.

Questions

1. Discuss the levels where the communication systems failed resulting in the tragedy.

The staff were provided the crash-course training and made to work. Even though they are too immature to handle the responsibilities, they’d got that. This results in the lack of seriousness of the situation in employees. Due to which, employees neither taken care of the rise in temperature nor informed his supervisor. The CEO of the company was in U.S., and did not have any idea of the gravity of situation. After his arrival also police made him unavailable to talk to his company’s employees. Here, communication was failed from the basic level to the top level.

2. Prepare a bullet presentation of the incident.

A bullet presentation is given below:
  • On 3 December 1984, a reaction occurred in methylisocyanate, used in pesticide. Tank valves burst-ed.
  • Poisonous gas escaped.
  • The winds carried it to nearby towns and city.
  • Thousands of people either died in their sleep or woke and died while fleeing.
  • Those who survived suffered from burning eyes and lungs.
  • Since local medical facilities were not equipped for the disaster, so over the next few weeks thousands more died.

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