Bombs in the workplace?

Subject: Bombs in the workplace?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2002 10:29:32 -0400

Bob reported: <<I have been asked to write a short item about dealing with
serious threats in the workplace... We found an honest to goodness bomb in a
locker. Management decided to have security move the item outdoors rather
than evacuate the building and notify the bomb squad. So they carried it
across the production floor to the exits.>>

Were they completely bereft of anything resembling sanity? What drugs were
they using that gave them the impression that garden-variety security staff
were capable of safely removing a bomb? I concede that the Hollywood image
of bombs ("hair trigger devices impossible to remove safely") is somewhat
exaggerated, but still... The reason why large police forces have bomb
disposal _experts_ is because this isn't a sport for amateurs.

<<My problem is ethics. We were a division of a larger corporation so I am
hesitant to mention the company.>>

No, you shouldn't mention the company; it's not relevant. You could report
the story as an unattributed anecdote about the wrong way to do things
(putting convenience over safety), but I don't think that's necessarily
going to help anyone. Your goal should be to make it very clear that though
it's painful and expensive to evacuate a building and shut down/restart the
machinery, it's unconscionable to do anything else in the face of a real
bomb threat.

If the company won't buy the ethical argument, point out to them that the
cost of a lawsuit is even higher, and that (speaking from Canadian
experience as a federal safety committee chairman) local or national
regulations may _require_ companies to develop emergency plans and practice
having the staff follow these plans. Take responsibility for suggesting that
companies must figure out how to safely and quickly shut down machinery and
processes before an evacuation; some stuff can't be left untended for the
several hours required to make the building safe again (e.g., open flames in
laboratories, some types of industrial equipment), and that the company must
develop clear emergency guidelines to cope with such situations. You might
just save many lives some day if people follow this advice.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
Hofstadter's Law--"The time and effort required to complete a project are
always more than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's

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