OSHA fines BP $87.4 million in Texas City aftermath

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a proposed fine of $87.4 million against BP Products North America Inc., saying the company failed to correct safety problems at its Texas City, Tex., refinery following a March 2005 explosion.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Oct. 30 -- The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a proposed fine of $87.4 million against BP Products North America Inc., saying the company failed to correct safety problems at its Texas City, Tex., refinery following a March 2005 explosion.

The fine is the largest in its history, OSHA said. Previously, the largest total penalty, $21 million, was issued in 2005, also against BP.

The 2005 explosion killed 15 people and injured 170 others at the 446,500-b/cd Texas City, Tex., refinery, just southeast of Houston in Galveston County. The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued a series of recommendations during a 2-year period. The recommendations were made to BP, the American Petroleum Institute, OSHA, and others (OGJ, Sept. 8, 2008, p. 20).

CSB concluded that noncompliance with procedures, inadequate equipment maintenance, and personnel mistakes were contributing factors to the accident.

In September 2005, BP entered into a settlement agreement with OSHA under which the company agreed to corrective actions to eliminate potential hazards similar to those that caused the explosion.

“Instead of living up to that commitment, BP has allowed hundreds of potential hazards to continue unabated,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said Oct. 30. “An $87 million fine won’t restore those lives, but we can’t let this happen again. Workplace safety is more than a slogan. It’s the law.”

BP contested all of the citations, saying the matter is before the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission, which is independent from OSHA. BP suggested the OSHA citations will expedite the process of referring the contested case to an administrative law judge.

OSHA outlines citations
OSHA issued 270 notifications of failure to abate with fines totaling $56.7 million. The agency also identified 439 new willful violations for failures to follow industry-accepted controls on the pressure relief safety systems and other process safety management violations with penalties totaling $30.7 million.

“BP was given 4 years to correct the safety issues identified pursuant to the settlement agreement, yet OSHA has found hundreds of violations of the agreement and hundreds of new violations,” said Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, adding, “BP still has a great deal of work to do.”

OSHA can issue a notification of failure to abate if an employer fails to correct a cited condition and the citation is a final order before the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission. A willful violation exists where an employer knows of a violation and demonstrates “either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the OSHA Act of 1970 or shows plain indifference to employee safety and health,” OSHA said.

BP responds
“We are disappointed that OSHA took this action in advance of the full consideration of the review commission,” said Keith Casey, manager of the Texas City refinery. “We continue to believe we are in full compliance with the settlement agreement, and we look forward to demonstrating this before the review commission.”

BP will continue to work with OSHA to resolve the differences, Casey said. “We believe our efforts at the Texas City refinery to improve process safety performance have been among the most strenuous and comprehensive that the refining industry has ever seen,” he said, adding, “We remain committed to further enhancing our safety and compliance systems and achieving our goal of becoming an industry leader in process safety.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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