[ZOOM ON] Lubrizol : When the crisis spreads ….

The fire at the Lubrizol plant was still very much in the news one week after the incident. The industrial accident initially passed under the media radar in favour of the death of Jacques Chirac, to reappear even more strongly, like a reignited fire, 3 days later, affecting not only the industrial company but also the authorities and even the government.

Poor management of communication by the company ? By the authorities ? Effects of social media ? Amplification of the facts by fake news ?

Undoubtedly a little of each. It was especially a major event in terms of its health impact (such a sensitive subject), not dealt with properly at the start, when in fact it is essential. The first press release of the (American) company broadcast on September 27 was a bad translation of a communiqué written in English where the translation errors (“a fire had exploded”) mixed up with unfortunate and sometimes even counterproductive turns of phrase.

Lubrizol would wait 3 days before communicating in French, setting up an information zone on its site and localising its sensitive management action on French soil, aided by a specialised agency. The change in vocabulary use was notable; they were now speaking to the population and not just to the markets or far away shareholders. However, it would wait a week before publishing the chemical elements which had burnt, while at the same time launching the hypothesis of an arson attack.

Dilution of responsibilities ?

For, while Lubrizol was stumbling along and trying to make itself discrete, the media and popular onslaught was directed at another more visible target …the authorities !. These were very quickly suspected of wanting to cover up the facts. For their part they defended themselves by highlighting the transparency of their communication. Yes, they were transparent, they communicated, but in a disordered, non-exemplary and over-declarative manner. The point is not just to communicate but to know, or to feel, which type of information should be given and at the right time.
Without this all the information provided will be subject to doubt, including the correct equipment for the firemen who went onto the premises to fight the fire.

Through its chaotic and foggy beginnings (to say the least) the Lubrizol case risks staying in the headlines since the future agenda is loaded. After the event and the political consequences will come the enquiry and the legal elements. Lubrizol has not finished with its contamination.