The butterfly effect: how one decision about safety can have tragic consequences for entrepreneurs


The 2004 movie The Butterfly Effect explores the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place could cause catastrophic consequences half a world away. The film is science fiction, but a real-life example of the butterfly effect is playing out now in a Canada courtroom.

A construction company and a supplier are both charged with violating the employment safety act. In 2016, a 21-year-old worker was killed when a 1,200-pound table cart toppled onto him. The construction company is being blamed for failing to provide a safe workplace. The supplier is accused of not making sure the table was safe.

The evidence at the trial indicates another worker removed some pins from the table shortly before it fell. The impact of this one small decision may have cost one man his life. The consequences will reverberate for many others for years.

It will be challenging for both companies to restore their reputation, especially whether they are committed to keeping workers safe. Both companies are facing fines, civil lawsuits and they could lose business for a very long time because of broad damage to their reputations and brands.

The situation should prompt all entrepreneurs and business executives to stop, think and ask this question, “Have I done everything possible to make sure my employees are safe?” The next question they should ask is even harder to answer, “Does everyone I’m doing business with have a strong safety plan for their employees and products?”

Around the world, 2.3 million workers  die from work-related accidents or diseases. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,147 fatal work injuries. Many executives must face the consequences involving deaths and injuries at the workplace. The risks grow exponentially if they are relying on other suppliers and contractors.

I can think of two issue that can jeopardize safety and risk management. The first is complacency, “I’ve done this task this way a thousand times and nothing bad has ever happened.” The second is tradition, “This Is the process and system we have always used, we have always used kept track of risks and safety training. Why change now?”

A tragedy is often the trigger for an executive to finally consider whether a different approach is needed to protect their employees and their business.

I had a friend who often said, “Opportunity and risk always ride together.” By their very nature, entrepreneurs love to find opportunities and are willing to take risks to push their businesses forward.

With that in mind, let me share some ways to seek out those opportunities and minimize the risks:

  • Review. Find out how your employees and anyone in the company’s supply chain are being trained for safety.
  • Identify. Create a checklist of risks and determine if your company or supply chain has gaps in handling hazards and meeting standards.
  • Plan. Study the international standard (ISO 45001). Update existing procedures to meet and enforce the new standard.
  • Document. Make sure all safety procedures are well documented.
  • Educate. Train or retrain your employees on ISO 45001. Your plan should include how employees are taught and tested.
  • Audit. Conduct regular audits to make sure compliance requirements are always met.


Supply chain risk management takes time and money but anyone who has had to face a tragedy or crisis will tell you it is worth every minute and every dollar.

I’ve learned from experience that these steps can save lives, keep customers satisfied and improve your bottom line – not to mention making a good night’s sleep more likely. It’s also getting easier to do because more tools are available now to keep up with all of the rules and regulations needed to stay in compliance.

The butterfly effect has a flip side.  For example, Dr. Jonas Salk tested a vaccine on himself and his own family to come up with the first effective vaccine for polio. The disease was crippling children all over the world in the 1950s. The antidote likely saved millions of lives but Dr. Salk never reaped any financial rewards for his discovery by getting a patent . He asked, “Could you patent the sun?”

One person, making one decision can make a tremendous impact for good. I am encouraging you to decide today to make sure your company stays in business and every employee arrives home safely.