At the end of last week, OSHA issued $87 million in penalties against BP for failure to make make the changes which were specified in a settlement agreement related to the 2005 explosion at a Texas refinery which killed 15 and injured more than 170 others. The second-highest penalty that OSHA has imposed was in 2005 for $21 million - also issued to BP related to the same explosion.
BP had paid the $21 million fine and agreed to corrective actions to eliminate potential hazards similar to those that caused the 2005 tragedy as part of a settlement agreement with OSHA in September 2005. The penalties were imposed after a 6 month OSHA investigation. BP had recently sought but was denied more time for compliance.
OSHA issued 270 "notifications of failure to abate" previously identified hazards, as well as 439 new willful violations for failures to follow industry-accepted controls. A willful violation is defined by OSHA as an intentional violation of the Act or plain indifference to its requirements.
Unsurprisingly, BP is contesting the fines, stating that they have spent more than $1 billion on modernization and safety and have taken 550 corrective actions. (See BP's offical response and October 5, 2009 response to OSHA, a 17-page PDF). The company has also gotten support from Texas City's mayor, Matt Doyle, who has criticized OSHA for the fines, calling OSHA's actions "one of the biggest affronts to the working men and women of this country" and "an example of intrusion into private business by government."
Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, noted that BP had four years to comply with the agreement, and defended OSHA's actions as protecting the safety of working men and women. While Barab acknowledged that improvements had been made, he noted that some of the most important things had not been addressed, particularly pressure relief and automatic shutdown systems, problems directly related to the accident. "Our experts say BP is 10 years behind where a lot of the leading refineries are when it comes to process safety," Barab said. "This is a company that should have known better."