The Political Economy of Risk: Piper Alpha and the British Offshore Oil Industry

  • Matthias Beck
  • Charles Woolfson
Part of the Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research book series (NTHR, volume 16)


In his article The Titanic Disaster: An Enduring Example of Money Management vs Risk Management, Roy Brander comes to a bold conclusion: the Titanic did not sink because of a number of technical flaws and human errors, but rather because of the prioritisation of money management (Brander, 1995). Brander’s argument is as simple as it is convincing. In the mid 19th century, engineers aspired to build ships with a view towards maximising the physical protection of passengers from harm. Brunel’s Great Eastern had an entire inner hull two feet inside the outer, inside that, the ship was divided into 15 transverse bulkheads and one lengthwise into 32 compartments. By the turn of the century, competition between more than ten shipping lines had grown fierce, with hundreds of passenger liners being built. As a consequence, the safety precautions that had marked earlier ships like the Great Eastern were chipped away. The new designs included fewer and smaller bulkheads, whilst unsafe lifeboats were provided in inadequate numbers. None of that seemed to upset the regulators, and the industry had ways of making sure that it would not. The Titanic’s only life-boat drill was conducted on deck with two boats and a hand picked crew. When asked during the Titanic enquiry why he cleared the Titanic for sailing following this drill, the inspector, Maurice Henry Clark gave the following response:


Risk Management Political Economy Quantitative Risk Assessment Formal Safety Assessment Offshore Industry 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Beck
    • 1
  • Charles Woolfson
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. Risk & Financial ServiceGlasgow Caledonian UniversityGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Reader in Industrial RelationsUniversity of Glasgow Faculty of Social SciencesGlasgowUK

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