Managing Safety Performance NewsFlash

Correcting Problems

This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the worst industrial accident in US History. Do you know what that was, or where it happened?

On April 16, 1947, a fire in the cargo hold of the SS Grandcamp, a ship being loaded with ammonium nitrate, set in motion a series of explosions across the industrial town of Texas City, TX. The force of the explosion was so great the ship’s anchor was hurled more than a mile across the city. 567 people were killed, more than 5,000 injured. Homes, businesses, chemical plants and refineries, and the port were decimated by the series of blasts.

That story probably seems to be a lesson in ancient history, but there’s something to be learned that applies to what you routinely do at work: troubleshooting problems.

Everyone knows the point of troubleshooting is to fix a problem. But there’s a world of difference between trying to fix a problem and successfully correcting the problemIt’s very possible for someone not skilled in the process of troubleshooting to wind up creating an even bigger problem with their fix. That is exactly what happened in Texas City.

A small fire had broken out in the cargo hold. Since using water to put the fire out would have ruined the cargo, the ship captain and the stevedore leader came up with a different way to try to fix the problem: batten down the hatches and inject steam into the hold to snuff out the fire.

It might have seemed like a good idea, but their “solution” turned the ship into a gigantic bomb!


The next time you’re tempted to try something to fix a problem, apply the lesson of the Texas City disaster: consider all the consequences your solution might set in motion.  Otherwise, the cure might wind up worse than the ailment.

Taking a few minutes to think things through – even better, getting a second opinion – might be the best use of time you will ever make.

Paul Balmert
April 2022

Spread the word

Share on Facebook
Share on Linkdin