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So, the dust is settling a little and the Oscars have announced that the 2 accountants responsible for possibly the biggest faux pa in Oscar history will never work at the event again…. but will that stop the same thing happening in the future?


Post Incident Investigation

After any ‘Incident’ it is necessary to discover what happened, what went right, as well as what went wrong. It doesn’t matter if its a problem with some envelopes or an injury in the workplace.

But all too often, any investigation stops at the Immediate cause. From what has been said publicly, it appears that the Oscars organisation has decided that since this has never happened before in the 89 year history of the event, it must be a human failure. Accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has allegedly previously boasted that their 83-year contract had never come up for tender because they “always” do a good job; so blame the person who handed out the envelope. ┬áThe ‘You’ll never work in this town again’ attitude. Job done. Case solved.

But the actual ‘incident’ or ‘unintended event’ in this case was Faye Dunaway announcing La La Land. She was not supposed to make the announcement, her co-presenter Warren Beatty was.

So why didn’t he?

Why did he act confused and show her the card from the envelope?the-oscars-649825_640

Warren Beatty is approaching his 80th Birthday this month, whist Faye Dunaway has just turned 76. He had clearly noticed that he had been given the wrong card, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. This scenario obviously wasn’t something that had been practiced in rehearsals for the event. But unsure what to do about it, in front of the global millions watching, he showed it to Faye.

In Faye Dunaway’s defence, all she saw was La La Land emblazoned in large type across the middle of the card, so she read it out. The actual text of the award category is written in comparatively small font along the bottom of the card, almost as an afterthought.

So, if the card had been formatted differently, with Best Motion Picture in the largest Typeface followed by the winner’s name, it’s unlikely that Faye Dunaway would have read the details out.

If the exterior of the envelope was clearly marked, other than whatever miniscule label might have been used, would the wrong one have been given out in the first place. Would Warren or Faye have said ‘Hey Dumbo, this is the wrong card!’

As there are reports that the Accountant concerned, Brian Cullinan was Tweeting celebrity photographs minutes before the mix-up, might that be a factor? He had one important job to do all night, so why be tweeting?

Any and all of the above factors are part of the chain of events that led to this monumental screw-up on the stage; just replacing one individual person does nothing to mitigate against the rest.

Applying the principle to safety incidents


kermit-1766149_1920When investigation any incident in the workplace, don’t stop at the most ‘obvious’ fact, since it is rarely the Root cause. Replacing the individual does nothing to resolve organisational issues, such as twin cases being used at the Oscars. If one case is the ‘back-up’ why is it even open?

Some reports say envelopes are given out alternately from each case; that is simply an incident waiting to happen, given the frailty of organising celebrities at an event.

No, this Oscars foul-up requires a full investigation and an overhaul of their systems, not just making a scapegoat of Brian Cullinan.

There’s no need to wait for an incident at your workplace. periodically examine all your procedures, look to see what works well and what is just about working. Ask your employees what works and what impedes them, what are they working around rather than following your procedures. You might be surprised at what you discover.

Are your procedures as robust as you think? Are staff using work-arounds? Are problems being concealed because it’s too much hassle to report them? Do your procedures allow for age and abilities of all staff? have you practiced problematic scenarios, or do you think everything will always go to plan?

Don’t let next week be your Oscars moment…


Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.