BPsafety panel concludes investigation in Blaine

Published on Thu, May 25, 2006 by ara Nelson

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BP safety panel concludes investigation in Blaine

By Tara Nelson

Members of a special safety panel organized by British Petroleum, heard testimony Monday about worker and community concerns on safety at their Cherry Point plant in a community meeting at Blaine’s performing arts center.

The meeting was the final public hearing in a series of examinations by the BP Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel (RISRP) organized by BP to review its five U.S. refineries, to investigate the degree to which corporate officials exercise leadership to promote safety, workload management, management of worker fatigue, and the adequacy of supervision and training on safety matters at the Cherry Point refinery as well as refineries nation-wide.

BP formed the panel in October, 2005 in response to an urgent recommendation of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board following a series of accidents including a March 2005 explosions at the company’s Texas City, Texas refinery that killed a total of 18 people; and the death of Blaine resident Nick Karuso, a 58-year-old employee of Cascade Refinery Services, who was found dead inside a unit he had been pressure washing at the Cherry Point refinery in May of 2005.

Committee chair James Baker, a former Secretary of State under former president George H.W. Bush and a current senior partner at Baker Botts international business law firm, asked Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen if he had any concern about safety practices at the Cherry Point refinery.

“I really have not,” Kremen said. “As a member of the Washington state legislature, it was brought to my attention on more than just a few occasions on how stellar the safety record at the Cherry Point refinery was. I certainly consider BP one of the excellent corporate citizens in our community.”

Chuck Mathes, a general manager of safety and technology at Cascade Refining Services, agreed.

“Other refineries often ask me about the things Cherry Point is doing,” he said. “They look at them as a leader in the industry.”

Scott Walker, a retired BP spokesperson and current Port of Bellingham commissioner, also agreed. “In my tenure under five refinery managers, I never once saw a situation where an employee concerned with safety was not given an answer or an action taken even if it meant a loss of production,” he said.

Other BP refineries, however, have a less stellar safety record, according to the U.S. department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In April, OSHA fined BP Products North America, Inc. more than $2.4 million for “unsafe” operation at the company’s Oregon, Ohio refinery after identifying a number of violations similar to those found during an investigation at the Texas City refinery.

The inspection revealed 32 “willful” violations that carried penalties of more than $2.2 million.

“It is extremely disappointing that BP Products failed to learn from the lessons of Texas City to assure their workers’ safety and health,” said Edwin Foulke, Jr., OSHA assistant secretary in a press release. “Our Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) exists for companies like this who, despite our enforcement and outreach efforts, ignore their obligations under the law and continually place their employees at risk.”

The agency also cited BP’s Ohio refinery for locating people in vulnerable buildings among the processing units; failing to correct de-pressurization deficiencies; failing to correct deficiencies with gas monitors; and failing to prevent the use of non-approved electrical equipment in locations where hazardous concentrations of flammable gases or vapors may exist.

Kremen added that despite BP’s safety record in Whatcom County, there is always room for improvement.

“However well this refinery has performed in the past, we certainly believe that you can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “You should always look for ways to improve.”

John Williams, a spokesperson for the RISRP and an attorney with Baker Botts law firm, said the panel will continue to have meetings and talk with BP until early next fall when it will issue a report on their findings.

Individuals can send their concerns about BP worker safety to John Williams, Room 3813, One Shell Plaza, 910 Louisiana, Houston, TX, 77002, or by email to john.williams@bakerbotts.com. For more information, visit www.safereviewpanel.com.