Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has levied the largest fine in its history—$87.4 million—against BP for failing to correct safety problems identified after a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City, Texas, refinery.
In a telephone press conference this morning, Solis said the fines are the result of BP’s failure to comply in hundreds of instances with a 2005 agreement to fix safety hazards at the refinery.
Solis said the fines represent the Obama Labor Department’s commitment to maintain safe workplaces:
Let me be clear. This administration will not tolerate disregard of our laws. Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to protect their workers who ultimately are America’s most important assets. The laws are designed to level the playing field for all businesses and ensure that workers in any economic climate are kept out of harm’s way.
OSHA has issued 271 notifications to BP for failing to correct hazards at the Texas City refinery since the explosion. The agency also identified 439 “willful and egregious” violations of safety controls at the refinery.
Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers (USW), which represents the BP workers, says the union has not yet read the citation, but “we have faith in OSHA.”
In the past we have offered to work with the company to address safety concerns and that offer still stands.
BP management initially tried to blame the workers for the explosion, but evidence collected in investigations by OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board forced the company to acknowledge it operated dangerous, obsolete equipment with a history of problems and malfunctioning control valves. Instead of venting flammable liquids to a flair, they were vented into the atmosphere, where they overflowed and exploded—even though OSHA had warned the company years before that the equipment was dangerous and should be replaced.
In addition to killing 15 people, the explosion injured 170 workers and obliterated 13 employee trailers and damaged 13 others, some as far as 300 yards away.
Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary for OSHA, said the safety problems at BP are systemic.
There are some serious systemic safety problems within the corporation, specifically within this refinery as well. I think that just the fact that there still are so many life-threatening problems indicates they have a systemic safety problem at this refinery.
BP already has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the explosion and agreed to pay $50 million, the largest criminal fine ever assessed against a company for Clean Air Act violations. Six months after the explosion, BP agreed to pay a $21.3 million OSHA fine, then the largest in the agency’s history.
Since the explosion, BP has settled more than 4,000 civil claims, paid from a $2.1 billion fund it set aside to resolve claims.
Solis ended the press conference by reiterating that job safety is a top Labor Department priority:
Our number one concern is the safety and protection of the current workers. We don’t need to see another loss of one life there. Our motto is that we would like to see people go into work and be able to come home to their families.