In December British Petroleum (BP) North America Inc. laid most of the blame for a recent deadly explosion at one of its five refineries in the United States on circumstances some experts could interpret as corporate failings at the macroergonomic level. The company faces potential criminal charges for the accident, which killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.
It occurred after a raffinate splitter tower at the refinery was overfilled and the liquid contents overheated. Flammable liquid and vapor spewed everywhere. Some reports suggest a running vehicle engine may have sparked the explosion.
The underlying causes of the accident, according to the BP team, point to a number of long-term breakdowns in morale, communication, management oversight and the safety culture. The investigators concluded that the working environment at Texas City “had eroded to one characterized by resistance to change and lacking of trust, motivation and a sense of purpose.” Process safety, operations performance and systematic risk-reduction priorities had not been established or consistently reinforced by management, they said. They found confusion among workers about their roles and responsibilities, attributing it to changes in the company. A poor level of hazard awareness and a poor understanding of process safety were also identified, and employees didn’t question risky established industry practice, according to the investigators. An early warning system was found to be inadequate, and the investigators suggested there was no independent means of understanding the deteriorating standards in the plant.
In November The Ergonomics Report