Wednesday, May 25, 2005

BP To Incompetent Workers: “Nevermind … or Not?

"Damn workers are to blame. "

"Oh, no they're not. Sorry."

"No, actually, it is their fault."

I’m so confused.

Last week, BP North America issued an interim report on the March 23 explosion at its Texas City plant that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, blaming the blast on “surprising and deeply disturbing” mistakes made by plant operators who did not follow proper procedures. Workers were made the scapegoats despite the fact that BP admitted that the unit that blew up had been “recognized as potentially hazardous for this type of service” and that BP had bypassed several opportunities to take it out of service. Furthermore, BP admitted that its faulty hazard reviews had failed to note the danger inherent in placing occupied trailers so close to hazardous units. All of those killed were contractors meeting in the trailers or doing non-essential work nearby..

BP’s press release stated that they were issuing the interim report because “further analysis is not expected to change the root causes or the recommendations made public today.” As a result of the interim findings, several operators and supervisors were fired.

BP’s “blame the worker” strategy came under harsh attack by the Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the plant, as well as the Houston Chronicle which published an article stating that “BP's finding that worker error is the root cause of the fatal blast at its Texas City refinery is at odds with respected industry guidelines for refinery accident investigations.” Even the Chronicle's business reporter attacked the BP report as "corporate scapegoating."

As of this morning, according to the Chronicle, BP had realized that its arguments weren’t flying and made some "adjustments" to its conclusions:
BP backed off statements made last week that the root causes of its deadly Texas City refinery explosion were that workers weren't following procedures and supervisors were lax.

While those were indeed critical factors leading to the blast, they were not the deeper causes, as the company had said in releasing its interim report on the accident a week ago, BP spokesman Hugh Depland said.

"We simply used the wrong language to describe the report's findings," he said. "Our fault."

The true causes have not yet been identified, he said.


Last Tuesday, BP Products North America President Ross Pillari said the company was releasing its interim report because he did not expect its ongoing inquiry "to change the root causes of the accident" being made public that day. He went on to describe operational and supervisory failures by workers.

Two days later, Depland reiterated, "The primary root cause was a failure to follow operating procedures and a failure of supervision."
OK, so far, so good. Until this afternoon, when this comes across the wires:
BP Stands Behind Texas City Investigation Report

Wednesday May 25, 3:13 pm ET

HOUSTON, May 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Today's Houston Chronicle incorrectly reported that BP has changed its views of the March 23rd incident interim investigation report. BP stands fully behind its issued report, which has always been identified as an interim report
At that time, we said we did not expect the work that remains to change the findings and recommendations made public last week. The investigation team is now working to identify the deeper, root causes and to gain complete understanding of the exact nature of the hydrocarbon release. This is consistent with our statement last week that the May 17 report was an interim report and that there would be additional findings.
OK, so last week, they stated that they did not expect remaining work to change the findings.…which is consistent with their statement that there would be additional findings. That certainly clears things up.

Oh, and BP also wants to make clear that “In speaking about the report, we have sometimes described the immediate critical factors as root causes. This has caused some confusion, for which we apologize.”

That’s not all we’re confused about (nor are we the only ones confused.)