September 13, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

On March 23, 2005 a series of explosions ripped through BP’s Texas City refinery. The disaster claimed the lives of 15 and injured many more. (You can read some of the press coverage here and here.)

Here are a few interesting tidbits fresh from the courtroom where BP lawyers are working to discredit the claims of four workers injured in the blast. These particular cases are the first to reach the courtroom, as at least 1350 of 3000 claims filed against BP have been settled behind closed doors.

In case anyone had any doubts that BP knew of warning signs, read on.

  • Back in March, I wrote about BP’s failure to upgrade their exhaust system—a deliberate oversight that, by BP’s own admission, could have prevented or at least lessened the severity of the explosion. Today, the Houston Chronicle reports that suggestions to upgrade the exhaust system date as far back as 1977. That is 30 years of inaction on something that could have saved lives. (See Kristen Hayes’s article: Suggestions for a flare at BP plant date to 1977.)
  • In 2004, Texas City plant manager Don Parus hired a consulting firm to study the safety culture at the plant. The results were startling: not only were workers convinced that management was ignoring safety issues, but also as the report put it: “We have never seen a site where the notion of ‘I could die today’ was so real for so many hourly people.” (See Brad Hem’s articles: Former BP plant boss acknowledges safety worries before blast and BP nixed $150,000 project that might have prevented blast.)
  • A month before the BP-Texas City disaster, Sam Mancuso, a health and safety coordinator at plant, complained to plant fire chiefs about a decision to save money by eliminating basic safety equipment—including first aid kits and fire-smoldering blankets. Weeks before the incident, BP cut maintenance and operations budgets by 25%. (See BP accused over fatal fire, from the Sydney-Morning Herald)
  • Obviously nervous about what might be unearthed, BP continues to fight a court order requiring former chief executive officer, John Browne, to testify regarding what exactly he knew about the safety of the Texas City plant. (See SMH article). For more about John Browne, click here.)

As you can see, we have much still to uncover about the failure of BP to maintain a safe and healthy working environment for their employees. It is precisely this kind of corporate short handedness that reminds us all of the need for a regulatory system better equipped to crack down on negligent employers before disaster strikes.

One thought on “BP’s Safety Record on Trial

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