Health and Safety Executive chair Judith Hackitt has called on HR professionals to ensure lessons learned from disasters such as the Buncefield oil explosion are not ignored.
Hackitt said that ensuring knowledge was recorded and passed down through generations of staff was vital to prevent major incidents in the future.
She told delegates at a HSE major hazards conference in Westminster last week that many mistakes that cause serious incidents were avoidable repeats of past failures.
"This can be put down to a loss of corporate memory in organisations," she said. "The lessons of the past were forgotten because people moved on or because they were not recorded, so were not known by people in leadership positions."
Hackitt added that HR professionals had to ensure these lessons were taken on by new members of staff.
"One of the challenges for HR is to generate a culture that allows the learnings of the 50-somethings to transfer to new generations so they don't have to learn the hard way," she said.
Trade unions called last year for improved training and advice for staff in the oil industry in the wake of a report by the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board.
That report challenged the industry to strengthen safety standards at UK sites handling large quantities of fuel to prevent another disaster like the explosions that hospitalised 60 people at the oil storage depot in Hertfordshire three years ago.
Work and pensions secretary James Purnell warned delegates at last week's HSE conference that good people management was vital to avoiding such disasters.
"Having a well trained, fully committed workforce is vital," Purnell said. "They will know how to spot the warning signs, and how to prevent them becoming major incidents."