Nineteen of BP's 22 deaths came in the last 18 months, including two separate explosions in Texas City and the fall of a worker through a rotted railing in 2004 at the refinery water plant in Whiting, Ind. Earlier this month, a maintenance worker was found dead inside a tank in BP's Cherry Point refinery in Washington, an incident under investigation as either asphyxiation or natural death, according to Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel.In fact, BP's record has been so bad, that just weeks before the March explosion, OSHA had put them on a special "enhanced enforcement" watchlist, because of a September 2004 explsion that killed two pipefitters and injured a third.
Naomi Brimer, whose husband, Terry, fell when a corroded railing gave way at the Indiana refinery last year, said she didn't think BP or OSHA took safety violations seriously enough.
OSHA fined the company $1,625.
"I have a BP paper that says we will provide our employees with a safe work environment, but there wasn't one for my husband," Brimer said. "I don't feel like a $1,625 fine is enough of a motivator for them."
BP is the only major oil company on that list, said John Miles, OSHA's regional director.The petroleum industry, and BP Amoco often boast of low injury and illness statistics. For example, BP's Website boasts that
Although the list is not made public, it is an exclusive club that includes construction contractors and industrial employers such as McWane Industries, the Alabama company with one of the nation's highest totals of workplace fatalities.
We achieved a reduction of over 10% in our Days Away From Work Case Frequency (DAFWCF) in 2004. A DAFWC is recorded when an injury results in an employee missing a day or more of work. Since 1990 our DAFWC rate has dropped from 0.09 per 200,000 hours worked to 0.08 in 2004. This performance exceeded our target set for 2004 and 2005, which is to achieve a DAFWCF across the BP group of better than 0.09.:But injury and illnesses statistics, which include a lot of slips, trips, falls, strains and sprains miss the point when it comes to overall facility safety.
In Texas City, at least, BP officials might have focused so much on individual worker safety that they missed problems with overall system safety, said Glenn Erwin, a former Texas City refinery employee who monitors refinery safety nationwide for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union.And it's not just that refinery work is inherently dangerous:
"They spend all their time saying, 'Don't strain your back, don't get dirt in your eye,'" he said. Safety statistics improve because more workers are avoiding minor injuries, but lurking problems, such as the outmoded ventilator stack cited in the March blast, have been neglected.
"A good company will investigate all accidents, incidents and near misses and say: 'We'll fix what we find, and we'll follow it to completion,' " Erwin said. "In BP's case, they found the problem years ago — the vent stack — but they never fixed it."
Miles, the OSHA regional administrator, called the unit that blew up in Texas City "antiquated equipment that is no longer used."
Texas City's BP refinery, the nation's third-largest, has reported three fatal accidents in the past decade.Even the Chronicle's business columnist, Loren Steffy, is appalled at BP's record:
In contrast, the nation's two largest refineries in Baytown and Baton Rouge, La., both of which are owned by Exxon Mobil Corp., have had no fatal accidents since 1995.
All of the Exxon Mobil refineries in the United States reported only two work-related deaths, both involving contractors at a Torrance, Calif., refinery.
One man was electrocuted there while installing air-conditioning equipment because of an error by an electrical contractor working for another outside company. In the other death, a contractor was asphyxiated after an air line became twisted when he went inside a storage area where liquids are stored under pressure, according to Exxon officials.
In both cases, workers for contracting companies were found to have made errors or failed to follow Exxon policies. Two of the three companies involved no longer work for Exxon Mobil, said Exxon Mobil spokesman Russ Roberts.
In response to all of this, we get a canned statement from Lord Browne: "We want BP to be a safe place to work. So as well as mourning for those we have lost, we are determined to learn from this tragedy and improve our safety record."
His words ring hollow.
BP's reputation, the statistics and government inspectors all tell a different story. BP hasn't learned from past tragedy. It hasn't updated equipment, such as the vent stack where the March explosion started. It hasn't enforced its own safety rules, such as those that restricted the location of a contractor trailer where most of the victims
It seemingly has done little to change its habits. It simply offers empty words that fall like cold, hard rain on the memories of those who died.
Safety, the company says, is a priority.
Twenty-two graves in Texas City and around the country say otherwise.
- "I Should Have Been Killed" -- Survivors of Texas City BP Blast, April 19, 2005
- BP Amoco Texas City Update: Plant Owners Aware of Venting and Trailer Location Hazards, April 10, 2005
- Workplace Safety Enforcement: A Tale of Two Countries, April 5, 2005
- Transparency? Or PR Savvy?, March 26, 2005
- BP In California: "callous and intentional noncompliance purely for economic reasons", March 24, 2005
- BP, site of fatal explosion, is Nation's Leader in Accidents, March 24, 2005
- At Least 14 Dead, Hundreds Injured In Huge Refinery Explosion, March 23, 2005