The continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is silently eating away at my insides. My grandmother purchased a camp in Clermont Harbor, Miss., back in 1969 after Hurricane Camille dramatically rearranged the Gulf Coast. Growing up I spent most of my summers down on the white beaches of the Redneck Riviera. It wasn't until the early 1990s that I finally stopped going down there as my career took me to northern Illinois. Even with the time away, I always think about the good times I had at the camp and on the beach just down the road.
Of course, Hurricane Katrina wiped Clermont Harbor off the map. Storm surges literally took every object and structure a half-mile inland back to the gulf. But since 2005, the beaches have been restored as was hope. That was the case at least until the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up on April 20, unleashing a huge environmental catastrophe that will take lifetimes to correct.
The beaches will be contaminated. The water will be unfit for entry. The seafood bounty that the gulf once offered will be eliminated. For me, hope is dead.
Now I watch the blame game unfold. It doesn't amount to much, but news organizations are having a field day covering it.
I am fascinated, however, with the idea that perhaps opportunities were missed because BP management didn't heed the words of workers. That theory was brought up during a recent congressional hearing, but not much has come of it. Now that the U.S. attorney general has launched a criminal probe into the oil rig explosion, we might learn more, but until the investigation results are concluded, we'll just have to come to our own conclusions.
I'm thinking about the potential impact of these types of whistleblowers because I'm currently working on a story about certified welding inspectors (CWI). In addition to having tons of experience and knowledge, these CWIs are a special breed. They have to be confident to speak up when others won't.
They need to tell customers why a weld won't work and how it should be done correctly. They need to tell welders just what they need to do to correct a joint. They need to tell managers why a job is late because rework was needed on that particular fabrication. They get the responsibility with the title and all of the associated grief that comes with it.
"If you feel you can't handle the heat, don't apply for the cook's position," said Paul Cameron, a CWI for more than 15 years and a contributor to Practical Welding Today.
When I visit a fabricating operation and I hear managers say that they value the input of their employees, I don't think much of it. You don't really know if the statement is true until you walk the shop floor. If an employee isn't engaged enough to say hello to the company president and his or her guest, the employee isn't going to be inclined to say that an order needs to be reworked because of some welding shortcomings. When the employee openly welcomes the interlopers into the shop, you think that the person might actually care about how others—customers included—view the work and thus the reputation of the company.
Those who have the guts to speak out and deliver the corrective advice that a CWI must have plenty of job opportunities. David Tofaute, executive director, Knight School of Welding, Louisville, Ky., said you can visit an Internet job board and find more than 100 openings for CWIs all over the U.S.
"CWIs are needed everywhere, and you are going to see that explode," Tofaute said.
Hopefully, these CWIs will work for companies that truly encourage them to speak up and management will listen. I wish BP had been more like that.