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Recap: CATASTROPHE and Systemic Change with Gill Kernick

By Tamara Parris | Reviewed by Gary WongCheckmark
Published: June 9, 2023 | Last updated: June 9, 2023 08:29:09
Key Takeaways

Recap of our discussion with Gill Kernick on her book CATASTROPHE and Systemic Change  with our Meet the Author community members.

Every month, members of the Safeopedia community come together for an online member's book club to discuss important workplace health and safety topics, share their insights and thoughts, and support each other.

In our most recent session, we invited our member and author Gill Kernick discussing her book CATASTROPHE and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and Other Disasters.

If you missed it, here's a recap of the session.


Meet the Author

Gill Kernick is a consultant in high hazard industries. Her work focuses on enabling safety as a driver of broader organizational change, with a focus on the prevention of major accidents. She believes that the voice and tacit knowledge of those on the front line are a strategic cornerstone.

Gill Kernick

Gill lived on the 21st Floor of Grenfell Tower from 2011 to 2014. Then on June 14th, 2017, she watched it burn. Seven of her former neighbors died in this disaster and she promised to make their lives count by working to bring some thinking from high-hazard industries to ensure we learn.

She frequently publishes papers and recently hosted a multi-disciplinary workshop with Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute. She hosts a blog, The Grenfell Enquirer, to enable and encourage authentic debate and learning, and in 2020 was voted one of the top 25 most influential people in health and safety in the UK.

Meet the Book

CATASTROPHE and Systemic Change: Learning from the Grenfell Tower Fire and Other Disasters is an attempt to understand why, despite enormous efforts, we persistently fail to learn from catastrophic events, using details of the Grenfell fire as a case study.

The book cover for CATASTROPHE and Systemic Change by Gill Kernick

Having lived in Grenfell Tower before the fire and witnessing its aftermath, Gill Kernick felt compelled to write the book to ensure that lessons are learned from the tragedy. The book explores the issues of safety culture, leadership, regulations, power dynamics, and the need for disruptive systemic change. Gill emphasizes the importance of listening to marginalized voices, making systemic issues visible, and challenging existing narratives that silence certain perspectives.

The Big Picture: Our Discussion Topics

In this conversation, participants discussed the challenge of implementing real change in complex systems and how our limited attention spans can be a further obstacle. Inquiries and reports are slow processes, and the public's interest often diminishes by the time the results are published. This creates a tension between the need for fast action and the benefits of a deep investigation.

The conversation turned to the role of politicians in preventing disastrous events and how many are unfortunately focused on retaining power rather than making changes for the sake of safety.


The discussion also touched on the challenges of implementing systemic change and the need to address the deeply held assumptions and beliefs that drive resistance to change. Relationships are an important component to overcoming this, while shaming dissenting voices is a barrier to learning. Power imbalances should also be addressed, along with narratives that silence people.

That being said, our participants pointed out that reluctance to change should not always be labelled as resistance. Rather, it is important to understand and undress the underlying anxieties behind that reluctance.

At the end of our discussion, Gill left us with three key takeaways:

  1. Shift Paradigms: Stop applying a linear, command-and-control approach to a complex world. Instead, learn to engage with the world as it is and develop the necessary skills to navigate its complexity.
  2. No Guaranteed Safe Outcomes: Recognize that blindly relying on regulations or rules alone will not ensure safe outcomes. It requires collective effort from everyone, not just regulators, to address complex problems effectively.
  3. Be Kind: Practice kindness toward yourself and others. Show compassion and humility as we navigate through challenges, recognizing that everyone is doing their best. Encourage more acts of kindness in the world.

The Nitty Gritty: Contributions from Our Community Members

Meet the Author sessions are collaborative discussions. While our guest author and community co-host Gary Wong get the conversation going, our community members always share their insights, experiences, and perspectives.

Here are some of their contributions.

Rosa mentioned that she always sees the same outcome from investigations and reports. The focus of the findings are always the same: leadership and culture. Gill posited that there are several underlying reasons for this, including the need to listen to all people at all levels and the detrimental effect of shaming people who dare to bring up information that doesn't align with the mainstream view.

Tom pointed out that how slow and difficult it is to make genuine changes to complex systems. One of the reasons for this is that people tend to look for short-term solutions that don't actually address the root cause of the problem.

Audrey suggested that, with proper publicity, the public's memory could be refreshed and they could remain interested in the valuable insights from the reports, even years after the event.

Join Us for the Next One

On June 16, 2023, we will be welcoming another great Author!

In our upcoming session we will have author Bob Edwards talking about his book Bob’s Guide to Operational Learning: How to Think Like a Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) Coach ...

Click here to register and join the conversation!


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Written by Tamara Parris

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Tamara Parris is the VP of Community and Business Development at Safeopedia, and owner of EHS Professionals Group on LinkedIn. Her passion is working with other EHS Professionals to collaborate in thought leadership, networking and connecting our industry peers to resources that will increase profitability and safety practices within their workplaces. Tamara has been in the Health and Safety field for over 20 years, her industry experiences include the Construction sector, CCTV and Security, and Commercial Retail industries.

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