BP and the divorce of safety

The gulf spill and Texas City explosion still haunt BP. Observations from the Chemical Safety Board and OSHA.


Some events move slowly, as is the case for BP. We learned recently that they are just getting to the point of settling with OSHA over some of the last penalties related to the Texas City refinery explosions in 2005 and resulting followup. BP has agreed to pay an additional $13 million to settle most of the remaining outstanding OSHA citations. If you start adding things up, it looks like BP has already paid in excess of $2 billion to settle other suits. There are still some outstanding citations that the company is disputing.

As for the gulf spill in 2010, the Chemical Safety Board has released a report critical of BPs record on safety. One element cited specifically was that the company was, in effect, more concerned about personnel safety than process safety.

This made me think of a video from almost two years ago. At Emerson Global Users Exchange in 2010, I talked to Mike Boudreaux about the whole safety lifecycle, and he brought up the point of safety metrics. Companies need to establish appropriate programs to cover both personal and process safety. The fact that workers are careful about PPE and lock-out/tag-out procedures is important, but that doesn’t help you if an emergency shut-down valve is stuck open and would not be able to close if the system called on it.

Obviously both sides of the coin are critical. The temptation is probably greater for companies to spend more time on the personnel side since it’s easier, generally less expensive, and employees can see the effects more immediately. Companies can also convince themselves that they are trying to protect their people, at least until something blows up.

Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com

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