In 1984, when a Dow Chemical facility in the Indian city of Bhopal released toxic gas that killed more than 3,700 people and injuring at least 16,000 more, the catastrophe set in motion the Responsible Care® initiative, which permanently altered how major industrial manufacturers consider the hazards surrounding their work. It also marked the beginning of a new chapter in Srikanth Mangalam’s father’s career, who became one of India’s first risk analysts, a new professional discipline that would guide the growth of Responsible Care.
Mangalam acknowledges that the experience of watching his father pioneer this new field was the inspiration that led him to follow a similar career path.
“The idea of trying to figure out why things go wrong, and how you can analytically break down failures and understand how to fix them in the future — this was always something that drove me,” he explains.
Mangalam has become internationally recognized for his contributions to public policy and regulatory activities that deal with the thorny challenges around risk. Now he is being recognized with the CSChE Process Safety Management Award, which honours his development of innovative approaches to help government and industry find common ground in preventing major problems from occurring.
Among the most prominent of his approaches has been the framing of a neutral forum where government and industry can sort out their shared interests, which weighs risk in much more expansive terms than just imposing and enforcing regulations. He argues that this simplistic strategy to achieving compliance could well miss more fundamental problems, since when companies fail to comply with rules, the cause may be more complex than individuals cheating for profit.
“Incidents happen because of systemic failures,” he says. “We’ve known that for ages in the chemical and nuclear sectors.”
For just that reason, Mangalam encourages a systemic perspective, one that assesses how an organization’s managerial or operational structure could reveal an attitude toward risk, as well as its ability to comply with regulations.
“That’s the only way you can make a determination about whether a company is doing the right thing or not,” he says. “In many of these cases it’s a lack of understanding and awareness around what the risks are and the expectations that are driving them to behave and perform in a certain way. A regulator’s view of risk is very different from a business’ view of risk.”
In order to help reconcile these differing perspectives on why regulatory standards are not being met, Mangalam created the Public Risk Management (PRISM) Institute, a body that can serve as a third party to host objective discussions around risk. Established in 2016, PRISM has worked with governments, academic institutions, private firms, and non-governmental organizations around the world to address questions of risk.
“The key part is building trust amongst the various stakeholders,” he says, describing risk as an instrument that effectively focuses these exchanges. And while this instrument definitely provides a practical response to the spectre of industrial accidents like the tragedy at Bhopal, Mangalam sees an even greater potential in this dialogue especially in a world that emerges post-pandemic.
“I established PRISM as a platform for collaboration,” he concludes, “one that could implement solutions to a range of complex issues in sustainable development.”