Monday, May 23, 2005

BP: Corporate Scapegoating?

Loren Steffy, the Houston Chronicle's business columnist, was not impressed with BP's Interim Report, released last week, even though the company promised to take steps to prevent similar incidents:
But that's not the same thing as taking responsibility.

What BP offers as a mea culpa is little more than corporate scapegoating. It lays the blame for the disaster squarely at the feet of its own low-level and midlevel employees in Texas City.

Unit operators and their managers didn't follow proper procedures, the report found. They didn't properly supervise the startup of the isomerization unit where the blast occurred, and they didn't evacuate people when they became aware of vapor releases and rising pressure in the unit.

The report doesn't answer several key questions: Who hired those employees? Who trained them? Who supervised them?

The report also found that the location of the contractor trailers, where many of the victims died, added to fatalities and injuries. So did the failure to evacuate nonessential personnel before the isom unit startup. A flare system, which BP had twice before decided not to install, would have reduced the severity of the incident, the report found.

Are we to believe that low-level employees were in charge of the placement of contractor trailers? Did low-level employees decide to forgo the investment in a flare system? Did low-level employees set staffing levels for the control room and the isom unit?

BP says it did hazard reviews on the location of the trailers, but those reviews "did not recognize the possibility of multiple failures by isom unit personnel."

Why not? Safety is, after all, a function of prevention, and prevention starts by identifying what can go wrong.


Taken as a whole, the BP report shows a company going through the motions. It blames low-level employees as if they function in a vacuum. It doesn't address larger problems at BP, and despite the news release's headline, it doesn't really address BP's responsibility.

BP simply pointed the finger of blame inward, singling out workers it hired, trained and trusted. If those employees failed in some way, then BP as a company failed, too.