It's the Culture, Stupid
And cash alone can't create one of world-class caliber.
- By Jerry Laws
- Oct 01, 2006
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
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.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.