What led Professor Andrew Hopkins to write?

Professor Andrew Hopkins
I am often asked what led me to write the books I have written.

I was deeply affected by a 1979 coal mine explosion south of Sydney in which 14 men died. I’m not sure why, since I knew no one concerned. Beyond sadness, there was also a feeling of outrage that there were no prosecutions, even though this event could be traced to legal violations. I wrote an article entitled “Crime without Punishment: The Appin Mine Disaster”, which marked the beginning of my interest in OHS generally and disasters in particular.

My first disaster book was about another coal mine explosion, which killed 11 men at Moura, Queensland, in 1994. The rich materials made public in the official inquiry allowed me to provide an organisational analysis of this accident and to view it as an organisational failure, not just as a case of corporate crime. The organisational perspective proved to be invaluable, and I have used it ever since.

When the Esso gas plant accident happened at Longford in 1998, union officer Yossi Berger could see that the organisational causes of this accident were strikingly similar to those I had described at Moura. He involved me in the subsequent Royal Commission which led ultimately to the book, Lessons from Longford, which was widely read around the world. One thing led to another and I found myself involved in investigations into two very high profile accidents in the oil and gas industry in the US, each culminating in a book analysing the organisational failures involved.

There is, as someone once remarked, “an awful sameness” about these accidents, but I trust that is not true of the books. While the fundamental causes of the accidents are very similar, each inquiry uncovered fascinating new information which enabled me to extend my analysis. The books therefore complement each other; each builds on the one before. I could never have written them otherwise.

What inspires me to write?

I write because I have something to say about these accidents that no one else is saying. When I sat down to write the book on the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout of 2010, at least a dozen other authors had already beaten me to. But not one of their books dealt with the organisational causes of the accident. My book therefore filled a gap. I am baffled by this gap. What I am doing is applied sociology, but it seems that few other sociologists are interested in applying themselves in this way.

What keeps me going?

I enjoy what I do. I am fascinated by the way organisations work and the way they fail and I get great satisfaction thinking and writing about these things.

A reviewer said about my Moura book that it had the ”right balance of quiet outrage and scholarly thoroughness”. As an academic, I cannot imagine a greater complement.
— Professor Andrew Hopkins