YouTube; Photo illustration by John Lyman



When a Whistleblower Tried to Prevent Titan’s Implosion

The massive search for five missing passengers aboard the Titan came to an end on June 23. The submersible, operated by deep-sea exploration company OceanGate, was on its way to view the Titanic when it suffered a “catastrophic implosion,” taking the lives of Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate, and four others.

But before there was disaster, there was a whistleblower.

In 2018, OceanGate employee David Lochridge was fired in response to safety concerns he raised about the Titan submersible within the company. Lochridge, the Director of Marine Operations, felt that a different type of testing should have been done to ensure the integrity of the vessel’s hull.

When conducting an inspection of the Titan, “Lochridge was met with hostility and denial of access to the necessary documentation,” according to his court filings. He later learned that this was because OceanGate was hiding the fact that their equipment was only viable for depths of 1,300 meters. They planned to exceed that by 2,700 meters.

“The paying passengers would not be aware, and would not be informed, of this experimental design, the lack of non-destructive testing of the hull, or that hazardous flammable materials were being used within the submersible,” the filings read.

Later that year, Lochridge was sued by OceanGate after the company learned that he filed an official whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While OceanGate claims the termination was in response to Lochridge breaching his employment contract by disclosing confidential information to OSHA, Lochridge held that he was wrongfully terminated and that his firing was in retaliation.

With Lochridge out the door, OceanGate carried on with its missions. And when safety whistleblowers are ignored, it is often a matter of when, not if something will go wrong.

While hindsight is always 20/20, OceanGate had someone in their ear years ago that tried to prevent this tragedy. I have seen this scenario over and over. The employee does not even see themselves as a whistleblower – just as someone doing their job, trying to make everything as safe as possible. Lochridge’s job description, after all, was “ensuring the safety of all crew and clients during submersible and surface operations.”

It’s safe to assume that safety was an afterthought for OceanGate, though. Don’t believe me? Take it from OceanGate’s now-deceased CEO. On a 2022 podcast episode of CBS’s “Unsung Science,” Stockton Rush said that “You know, at some point, safety is just pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed, don’t get in your car, don’t do anything. At some point, you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question.”

Internal whistleblowers are a missed opportunity by companies to clean up their act before it is too late. Sherron Watkins alerted Enron CEO about the impending financial collapse, was ignored, then watched it happen just as she predicted. Chrysler fired their safety executive Paul Sheridan in 1994, then put a ‘muzzle order’ on him, threatening arrest if he shared what he knew. By the time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration completed its investigation into his claims, 37 deaths were linked to car malfunctions that he tried to bring to light. The Guardian just reported that 40 hospital deaths in Brighton were linked to claims of malpractice made by two consultant surgeons who were fired after blowing the whistle.

When is enough enough? Whistleblowers are consistently ignored, demoted, fired, and retaliated against when it matters most. Internal reporting channels must be legitimate, safe avenues for concerned employees, not a way for the company to weed out anyone who isn’t on board with their haphazard practices. Companies should view these channels as a mechanism to minimize risk and protect themselves from financial loss and reputational harm.

In addition, employees must be aware of their rights when it comes to external reporting. Multiple government agencies have whistleblower programs that allow for confidential and anonymous reporting of misconduct. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces 25 whistleblower statutes, conducts investigations, and issues decisions regarding whistleblowers.

If you are thinking of blowing the whistle on a safety matter at work, consider your options, but know that your decision to come forward can and will save lives.