Responsibility and Blame in Business
This paper will examine the concepts of responsibility and blame through analysis of two scenarios involving explosions at plants in small communities. Both explosions result in the death of 100 people, injury to one thousand community members and property damage and medical expenses of over five hundred million dollars. The explosion in the first scenario was caused by a lightning strike that set off an unforeseeable chain of events. In the second scenario, the explosion was caused by a plant employee smoking near corroded pipes through which flammable vapors were released. To determine the level of responsibility and blame the plant should accept in each of these situations requires an understanding of the difference between these two terms.
According to Glass (2011) “Responsibility is empowering, blame is discouraging, responsibility looks forward, blame looks backward, and most importantly, responsibility acknowledges that external factors may mean success is simply not possible whereas blame implies that if you had done something differently, it would have succeeded.” Responsibility involves looking at a given situation, acknowledging ones roll in it, learning from mistakes and moving forward to repair or mitigate damages. Blame focuses on failures, looks to shift responsibility to others and fails to allow the necessary self analysis to create a better outcome in the future. Responsibility and blame need not both be present in every situation. Sometimes the ethical response is to accept the responsibility for correcting a situation or mitigating the damages when the blame lies elsewhere or is lacking entirely. In both plant explosions, the owner of the plant will have to accept some responsibility for the medical costs and property damage; however the amount of responsibility will vary because of the level of blame involved. “The assumption that blame entails moral or social wrongdoing differentiates it from kindred concepts such as legal responsibility”(Alicke, 2000, p. 556).
In the first instance, there was no negligence on the part of the company or its employees which excludes them from blame but not responsibility. Nothing the company could have done differently would have prevented this disaster. In the second scenario, there was negligence on the part of the company for not properly maintaining their pipes which carried flammable vapors. Additionally, even if the pipes were properly maintained and secure, it probably was not wise to allow employees to smoke in the vicinity of anything flammable. In this instance, the plant owner is to blame for the accident and should be held responsible for all costs associated with this explosion, and perhaps punitive damages to discourage future neglect. However, caution should be used when assessing blame because focusing on blame can interfere with the process of treating those who were injured and repairing the damage to...