Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A clear crisp day in March is forever burned into my memory, and the collective memory of many in Texas City. Everyone will remember what they were doing and where they were when they heard, felt, or saw the explosion. I will always remember standing in my kitchen, clinging to my ailing grandmother as the pressure wave slammed into my parents’ house. Little did I know it at the time that very sound was the sound of 15 souls being taken. No amount of money will bring back those people who were lost, nor will it ease the pain of such a tremendous loss.
Last month, as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed down its judgment to BP. They would have to pay $21.36 million in fines in addition to willful health and safety violations. A majority of the fine is related to egregious willful violations. That is, those things that were preventable, but were never remedied to begin with. The question remains now, can BP change?
The short answer is yes, but how? BP took its first steps toward saving face by moving all non-essential contract employees into a centralized location. No longer will contract workers have to labor in trailers where they are susceptible to the dangers of a pressure wave. Instead, they will now work in a building once occupied by K-Mart. BP has also taken other measures.
In May, shortly after the blast, BP’s Texas City refinery changed managers. Colin Maclean was brought in to turn the facility around in order to make it safer. Maclean was the man behind the turn around at BP’s troubled Grangemouth complex. While his plans look good on paper, it’s hard to say how well they’ll be implemented at the Texas City facility. It’s hard to implement change after things have been done the same way for so long.
The US Chemical Safety Board, the principal investigator, recommended that BP appoint a panel to review its safety procedures in August. The company has responded by appointing the panel. BP hired former secretary of state James Baker to head the panel. Joining him on the panel will be members of both the private and public sector. Hopefully, this help from the outside can solve some of the problems within BP.
The CSB is due to release its initial findings October 27th. I can only imagine what will be in this report, but the board will not be as lenient as OSHA has been in the past. The full extent of just what went wrong may not be known for a while, but at least they have made progress. The investigation could lead to possible criminal charges against those at BP. Maybe then those who lost loved ones will feel justice really has been served.
As for me, my sense of security has been forever shattered. Never can I go back home again without thinking about that fateful day. Each time I look at the skyline of my hometown, I will always ask myself, when will it happen again? I feel that while BP has taken small steps toward improvement, they have tarnished their image. People will never be able to trust BP again as they have demonstrated once again that the only thing that matters to them is their bottom line. Worker safety has always taken a back seat to company profits, but this tragedy may change that. Only time will tell for sure if it does.

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