“If your next project
has no risks,
then don’t bother.”
he year: 2006. The place: San Marino Grand Prix in
Imola, Italy. Chief mechanic Alistair Gibson signals too
early to Jenson Button that he can leave his second pit stop;
the team only barely escapes a catastrophe. Button stepped
on the gas even though the fuel nozzle was still attached to
the car. The pipe ripped open and liters of gasoline spilled
across the pit. One of the mechanics was soaked head to
toe in fuel. Nick Fryer, the team’s CEO, later confirmed to
the press that the situation had been extremely serious. A
single spark could have caused the fuel to explode. Fortu-
nately a number of colleagues with fire extinguishers quick-
ly arrived on the scene.
So what does this have to do with risk management in
turnarounds? Like refueling and tire changes in the pit lane,
plant shutdowns in the chemicals and primary industry are
also prepared inmeticulous detail. Here too, various sections
and areas of responsibility have to be perfectly coordinated.
In racing, around 20 mechanics take mere seconds to change
four tires, refuel the car, readjust the chassis and aerody-
namics, and clean the driver’s visor; between 500 and 4,000
people might spend several weeks working on a turnaround.
But one thing is true in both cases: that window of time
between stopping and getting going again is the key to
winning – or losing if something goes wrong.
“If your next project has no risks, then don’t bother,” said
Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister over 10 years ago in their
risk management guide “Waltzing with Bears”. But it seems
that their message has yet to reach the majority of corporate
decision-makers. Gibson wanted to send his driver back out
as quickly as possible. If the team had taken their time, then