On March 23 a blast at the Texas City refinery of BP killed 15 people and injured more than 170, an incident described as the worst United States refinery accident in recent memory. In an unprecedented move, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued an urgent recommendation on August 17 that requests BP create an independent panel to review the safety culture at the company’s North American operations.
Many factors singled out by the agency for investigation point to ergonomic issues related to the organization, management and safety practices at BP, all potentially flawed.
The report from the agency, which investigates incidents at petrochemical facilities across the country, said BP officials knew about frequent malfunctions of the unit for five years prior to the explosion but failed to properly investigate. Since the fatal blasts, other problems have been reported at BP plants. In late July, there was a serious hydrogen fire in another unit at the Texas City refinery. In August, a hole developed in a valve that handles high-pressure gas and oil. The incident resulted in a citywide shelter-in-place order.
In a statement issued with the report on August 17, CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said the rash of incidents and near misses point to “systemic lapses in organizational decision making, safety oversight and safety culture” at BP.
The agency singled out for particular investigation by BP possible lapses in appropriate leadership by corporate officials, flaws in management decision-making at all levels, under-resourced safety programs and inadequate near-miss reporting and investigation programs.
The Houston Chronicle in Texas reported in June that BP has agreed to pay several of the families of workers killed in the explosion tens of millions of dollars each to settle wrongful death claims. The settlements come as the London-based company continues to be dogged by growing allegations that managers at the Texas City refinery for years ignored the safety concerns of union workers and others, then pinned the blame for the blast on low- and mid-level operators and supervisors.
The federal agency will issue findings from its own investigation in October.
Sources: United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board; Houston Chronicle