It's the Culture, Stupid

And cash alone can't create one of world-class caliber.

AT the moment I'm asking how any company, even an energy conglomerate with operations on six continents, can afford to spend $7 billion in a four-year period to upgrade the safety of five U.S. refineries (and to rebuild aging pipelines in Alaska). The company is British Petroleum, which for reasons inexplicable is not fixed in the public's mind as a safety villain, despite several catastrophes at U.S. operations and a record $21.3 million OSHA fine last year. Seven billion dollars can buy terabytes of expertise, boatloads of training, and tons of audits, and while I applaud BP for committing it, I'd like it more if we weren't paying sky-high energy prices to support the company's bid to whip itself into shape.

A few people in our industry may benefit. A $7 billion safety budget is almost unfathomable: To exhaust it, BP would have to pay $233,333 to each member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, which says it has 30,000 occupational safety health and environmental members. That won't happen, but in late July BP said it had earmarked $200 million to pay for 300 outside experts "who will conduct comprehensive audits and redesigns where necessary of all safety process systems."

That's commendable. However, cash can't buy a world-class safety culture. Money alone won't make a supervisor who reveres production above all else change his outlook, nor will it sober up a hard-drinking or drug-using worker whose habits endanger those around him.

The new U.S. systems will be operational by the end of 2007, the company said. It promised to seek OSHA's input throughout the process and to ensure its U.S. operations meet the agency's standards. If the culture is weak on safety, these promises won't be enough.

This column appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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