Taking a page from the Pentagon's Abu Ghraib playbook, BP Amoco has decided where the blame lies for the deadly March 23 blast at its Texas City refinery: with
a few bad apples "low- and mid-level workers who it said were lax in following written company procedures during one of the most dangerous times in refinery operations." According to the Houston Chronicle, some workers have been fired and more will follow. The plant's manager has been placed on leave, but not as punishment; it's just to enable him to participate full-time in the company's investigation.
But not everybody accepts bungling workers as the only explanation. BP is, as Jordan at Confined Space reports, the deadliest refining firm in the nation, and this strongly suggests the company is at least as much to blame for its workers' alleged carelessness as the workers themselves. Unions and injured workers told the Chronicle that BP is making "scapegoats of the low-level refinery workers while sidestepping management's own responsibility":
"Blaming workers doesn't solve the problem of unsafe conditions in that refinery," said Gary Beevers, Region 6 director of the United Steelworkers union.
Glenn Alexander, whose wife, Lorena Cruz-Alexander, died in the explosion, said he also was dissatisfied with BP's statements.
"I'm glad that they are admitting that it was their fault, but I am still very angry because it was a situation that could have been avoided," said Alexander, also a refinery worker who watched helplessly and in horror as the construction trailer in which his wife was working was consumed in a fireball.
"The level that they are trying put blame on is too low. This is something that should be looked at higher up," Alexander said.
"It is good that the company has stated that they will accept responsibility but it appears they are only willing to do that on a very low level," [victims' attorney Rob Ammons] said. "Their own report suggests that decisions were made at a corporate level which were a cause of this explosion and needless tragedy ... I'm disappointed that they have not admitted the obvious concerning the flare system. My investigation leads me to believe it just wasn't in their budget."
As Confined Space pointed out at the time, the victims were contract workers rather than regular employees, a common cost-cutting practice in oil refineries, and questions have been raised for years about how adequately such workers are trained. BP executives keep expressing incredulity about how poorly the workers followed safety procedures; perhaps they should look at their own hiring and training practices as well.
Just to top it all off, it turns out that, astoundingly, contract workers killed on the job are not even counted officially as casualties of their actual workplace. Instead they are listed under the company that contracts them out, which may not even be in the same industry as the company that hires their labor, making it much harder to track injuries and fatalities at a particular refinery.
NOTE: Edited to correct last paragraph, 11:34 a.m., 5-18-05.