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November 09, 2009

OSHA has slapped BP with an $87.4 million fine for failing to comply with a four-year-old agreement to fix process-safety problems at its Texas City, Texas, refinery, as well as for more recent violations of OSHA laws. It is the largest fine in OSHA history. OSHA says $56.7 million of the penalty is because of BP's failure to meet terms of an agreement to correct hazards that led to a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 workers. Within months of the accident, BP and OSHA entered into a settlement agreement, which expired in September. The remaining $30.7 million of the fine is because of a string of recent safety management violations identified by OSHA. "When BP signed the OSHA settlement, it agreed to take comprehensive action to protect employees," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in a briefing. "Instead of living up to that commitment, BP has allowed hundreds of potential hazards to continue unabated." BP protests the citations and is seeking a review by the Occupational Health & Safety Review Commission, a body independent of OSHA. "We continue to believe we are in full compliance with the settlement agreement, and we look forward to demonstrating that before the review commission," Texas City Refinery Manager Keith Casey said in a statement. BP's process-safety performance, he added, has been among the "most strenuous and comprehensive that the refining industry has ever seen." However, OSHA says that since the 2005 accident, there have been several accidents and four fatalities at the BP plant. One of these accidents is under investigation by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). CSB Chairman John S. Bresland points to a "disturbing frequency" of U.S. refinery accidents. The board is currently investigating seven separate refinery accidents. Bresland urges BP to adopt recommendations springing from CSB's two-year investigation of the 2005 accident, including appointing a refinery process safety expert to BP's corporate board. Chemical & Engineering News, 09 November 2009, p. 12.


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