The scale of BP’s safety problems have been highlighted with the publication of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) preliminary findings into the company’s Texas refinery fire that killed fifteen people. The Board found that top officials at BP allowed widespread budget cuts at the refinery even though they were well aware of serious safety problems throughout BP facilities in Texas and elsewhere.

“The CSB’s investigation shows that BP’s global management was aware of problems with maintenance, spending and infrastructure well before March 2005,” said Carolyn Merritt, CSB chairwoman. She said BP did make some safety improvements, though it focused on improving procedural compliance and reducing occupational injury rates, “while catastrophic safety risks remained”.

“Unsafe and antiquated equipment designs were left in place, and unacceptable deficiencies in preventative maintenance were tolerated,” she said.

Merritt said stringent budget cuts throughout BP caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the Texas City refinery. “At an ageing facility like Texas City, it is not responsible to cut budgets related to safety and maintenance without thoroughly examining the impact on the risk of a catastrophic accident.”

Specifically, CSB said that:

•A 2004 BP audit of 35 business units, including Texas City, found “widespread tolerance of noncompliance with basic safety rules and poor implementation of safety management systems and processes.”

•BP implemented a 25 percent company-wide cut on fixed costs between 1998 and 2000, negatively impacting spending for maintenance repairs and other safety improvements.

•The training staff in Texas City was reduced from 30 people in 1997 to eight in 2004, and the budget was cut in half during that time.