Telling tales22 November 2018
Every few months I have a meeting with the magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, in which I ask their advice, plan future issues and weather some constructive criticism (this editorial will be reviewed at about 11.30am on 18 January 2019 – not that I am feeling self-conscious).
In the most recent meeting, the conversation turned to a longstanding problem: that there is a growing trend among clients in the construction industry to try to restrain, sanitise or just outright block communication by their engineers to the public.
That is, whenever there is something interesting to say. Something that the industry might find useful.
Through a culture of blame and intimidation, this has filtered through to the engineers themselves. I was recently told by a media relations manager that “as a contractor, it would be inappropriate to comment on our client’s project”.
I appreciate the sensitivity that comes with speaking out in some environments. The threats of litigation that Tunnels and Tunnelling occasionally receives for reporting on a fatality, or a collapse, or even an unforeseen change in alignment have all meant that I have had a little taste of the attitudes in some corners of the industry. And granted, my interests here are a little self-serving; I tell stories for a living. But this issue should also be of concern to the wider industry.
The UK, my home turf, is one of the leading offenders when it comes to this lack of transparency, actively cultivating a culture of ‘what everyone can know but no one can say’. I would like to see that change in the years ahead. Which is not to suggest that all clients are totally opaque, some are helpful providing their project is going well.
The British Tunnelling Society, and of course other learned societies, have the aim of spreading the knowledge and understanding of tunnelling. The publication of success stories, while omitting failures, makes the task that much more difficult. It reduces the collective gain in knowledge.
I understand that it is an aim of the BTS to try to get more client involvement with the society, and this can only be a good thing. Perhaps the fear of the Evening Standard can be managed away.
In any case, I ask those in the tunnelling industry to try to bring employers on side and then to get in contact and tell us your stories, good and bad, so colleagues can learn from both successes and failures, and we can all improve together. The more we know, the better and safer we will be. Including clients.
And in the spirit of living in a no blame culture, I look forward to the review in January!