By Paolo Ramazini
Oil giant BP might see itself as “beyond petroleum” but the only things it is beyond are safety laws and basic justice. The company is another high profile case of a corporate killer getting away with murder while its bosses pocket millions and remain untouched by laws supposed to hold them to account.
In March 2005, an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in the United States killed 15 workers and injured 180. An investigation panel led by former US Secretary of State James Baker published a report on the incident last week. The panel found “instances of a lack of operating discipline, toleration of serious deviations from safe operating practices, and apparent complacency toward serious safety risks at each refinery”.
It concluded that “until BP’s management, from the group chief executive down through refinery superintendents, consistently articulates a clear message on process safety, it will be difficult to persuade the refining workforce that BP is truly committed on a long-term basis to process safety excellence”.
The report specifically criticised BP chief executive Lord Browne, saying that if he had shown as much leadership on safety as he had done on climate change and alternative fuels then it would “likely have resulted in a higher level of process safety performance in BP's US refineries”.
Browne is standing down in July this year, 18 months earlier than originally planned. However in 2005 he still received an annual bonus £1.75 million and will no doubt get a handsome payoff when he retires.
The Baker report said that said the “corporate blind spot” on safety went right up to the London-based global board. Yet neither BP nor Lord Browne will be held to account in Britain for the deaths of American workers, even though the firm and its bosses’ decisions were responsible for safety failures. The new corporate manslaughter bill currently going through the House of Lords will not correct this problem either. Under the proposals, the new offence of corporate manslaughter will not apply to work-deaths abroad caused by British firms nor will individual directors have specific legal safety duties placed on them, which would make prosecuting them a lot easier when workers are killed.
In short, if you want to kill someone and get away with it with a fat pay off, become the boss of a big firm and take your pick from the workforce.