OSHA urged to get tough with BP in $90 million fine negotiations

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Citing a Center for Public Integrity investigation of BP refineries having the most egregious safety violations in the industry, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Al Franken want the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to demand stricter worker safety requirements in its negotiations with BP over $90 million in fines.

The plan would help OSHA find problems before they erupt in an explosion or other catastrophic incident by requiring BP to report injuries, deaths, and safety incidents that currently go unreported, the senators said in an August 9 letter to OSHA. Murray is chairman of the Senate’s employment and workplace safety subcommittee, and Franken is a member of the panel.

Specifically, their proposal would:

  • Require BP to report any “process safety incident” that occurs at a site under their control, regardless of the number of workers injured or killed. Currently, companies must report safety incidents to OSHA only if three or more workers are injured or if an employee is killed.
  • Require BP to record all injuries and illnesses of workers at sites under its control, regardless of whether they are employed by the company or by a contractor. Companies are not now required to report injuries or deaths of contractors’ employees unless the company directly supervises them. “Excluding contractors from reporting requirements allows employers to claim their workplaces are safer than they actually are,” Murray and Franken say in their letter. All 15 workers who died in an explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery in 2005 were contractors.

BP and OSHA representatives had no immediate comment on the letter.

The senators urged David Michaels, the assistant labor secretary, to incorporate the tougher requirements as part of OSHA’s settlement negotiations with BP over a record $90 million in fines for 862 safety violations at the company’s refineries in Texas City and near Toledo, Ohio. BP is contesting all the violations, and is expected to meet soon with OSHA.

Tougher safety measures are needed for BP because it was cited by OSHA for 760 “egregious willful” violations – 97 percent of the worst violations in the refining industry – in the years following its Texas City refinery explosion, the two Democrats said. They also singled out BP for additional oversight because of what they said was the company’s “alarming indifference toward the safety of its 29,000 workers employed in the United States.”

If faced what the lawmakers described as another “problem” company in the future, OSHA should incorporate similar reporting requirements in any settlement agreement, the letter said.

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