BP's Safety Record

Aug. 10, 2010
Readers Chime In on BP's Safety Procedures and Its Consequences

Your statement that "BP does everything it can think of to minimize risk from its activities" appears to have been premature. I know you have publishing deadlines, but it appears that BP may have made up to eight decisions drilling this well that involved higher risk in favor of quicker or lower costs.

Tom Sanderfoot
Director of Engineering, Milprint Packaging, LLC

I have to take exception to your article of June 2 concerning BP and the Deepwater Horizon incident in the gulf.
You refer to the Texas City refinery incident which destroyed a significant part of the BP refinery, but you fail to mention that 15 people were killed in that incident. I have to challenge you on that. Fifteen 15 men dead bears mentioning if you are talking about safety—not to forget 11 more in the most recent event.

You go on to say: "BP’s upstream and downstream units have devoted funding and real change management to making, as Hayward has put it, ‘safety our number one priority.’ Quietly and without fanfare, BP has revised training programs, safety systems, safety planning and implementation. The DuPont safety system is the standard of the industry, and it has been adopted wholesale by BP. So what went wrong?"

It is one thing to say you are devoted to making "safety our number one priority" and quite another to back it up with effective actions. I am sure BP can document "revised training programs, safety systems, safety planning and implementation," and can show that it went through the proper motions of instituting the DuPont Safety System.

The problem is that these are just programs. They can be effective tools to improve safety, but only if they are used properly to help develop and maintain a true safety culture. These alone do not a safety culture make. BP obviously did not have a "…good, if new, safety culture…," and as a result, the odds of an incident were far from "…immeasurable." In fact, based on BP’s recent performance, I would say that it was almost inevitable. A company with a good safety culture would not have been cited by OSHA for 760 "egregious willful" safety violations in its refineries between 2007 and 2010. (New York Times June 18, 2010, "BP Ignored the Omens of Disaster.")

I, like you, would have expected BP to learn from the Texas City incident and to have implemented real change, but the current situation does not bear that expectation out. You make the classic mistake, as did BP, that safety programs equal good safety culture. In the case of BP, they would appear to be little more than window dressing.

The other thing that is telling to me is the phrase "…quietly and without fanfare…" That makes me question BP’s commitment to changing its safety culture. If you are committing to major change, you don’t do it in under the radar. You tell God and everybody that this is what we will do. Stick your neck out and don’t leave any wiggle room. Then walk your talk.

I challenge your attitude that subsea drilling is just dangerous and that accidents will happen. BS! That reminds me of an old saying we used to hear around the steel mill when someone got injured, "Boy, this ain’t no ice cream factory." You must never dismiss a risk as just part of the business. Any responsible company with a solid safety culture will do rigorous hazard analysis to identify risks and minimize them to the greatest possible extent.

You conclude, "Even when a company like BP does everything it can to minimize risk from its activities, things can still go wrong."

That may be true, but there is little reason to believe that BP did even close to everything it could to minimize risk.

Wade Hedrick
Mechanical Engineer, Nuco Steel, Texas