BP PLC, in the largest industrial-accident settlement of its kind, agreed to pay $21.4 million in fines for safety violations related to a March 23 explosion at its refinery in Texas City, Tex. The accident killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday listed hundreds of safety violations -- ranging from failure to record accidents to equipment deficiencies that it called "egregious" and "willful" -- that investigators discovered after the explosion. Some of the violations could be referred to the Justice Department, which has the option of pursuing criminal charges against BP or individuals in connection to the explosion, an OSHA official said yesterday.
"At this time we're considering our options," John B. Miles Jr., OSHA's regional director, said at a news conference in Dallas. "We've not decided whether we'll refer that or not," he said. A representative of the U.S. attorney's office in Houston wasn't available for comment.
While the settlement is a record fine for OSHA, it is a small hit to BP's bottom line. The London-based oil company recorded profit of $15.73 billion last year.
BP confirmed that it agreed to pay the fines without admitting the alleged violations and without agreeing to the way OSHA characterized them in the agency's citation.
"We have worked with OSHA in a cooperative and comprehensive manner and we are very pleased to have achieved this agreement," Ross J. Pillari, president of BP Products North America, said in a written statement. "We will apply the learnings from this and other investigations to make the Texas City refinery a safer place."
In addition to the fines, OSHA put BP on an unusual probationary period, essentially requiring it to ask permission from the agency before restarting the unit affected by the explosion. It will also require a special report of minor accidents and lost time due to injuries or illnesses at the refinery every six months for the next three years. BP also agreed to hire outside experts to review the refinery's safety programs and communications between management and workers.
In an initial accident report released by the company in May, BP accepted responsibility, and the company has worked quickly to reach financial settlements with victims and the families of those killed. But in its report, BP laid most of the blame on a handful of employees, whom it accused of operational and supervisory failures. The company fired several employees after the explosion and reassigned the plant's manager.