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Federal report: BP cost cutting cost workers their lives

By Paul Hill

HOUSTON - Federal investigators concluded in a report issued on March 20, 2007 that the longstanding disregard for safety by British Petroleum Company management resulted in the catastrophic explosion on March 23, 2005. According to the investigation, BP hoped to save 25% in costs through budget cuts in 1999 and 2004. 15 people died and 180 were injured as a result of the company's drive to increase profits. Immediately after the disaster, BP attempted to place the blame for the blast directly on the workers themselves.

BP has spent $1.5 billion cleaning up the aftereffects of the explosion which is more than 45 times the amount of money they saved in their first round of cuts, according to the report. BP's strategy was to beat its competitors at cost-cutting and thereby boost profits. It slashed training and safety programs as well as equipment in this effort.

Refinery workers and their families responded to the report very positively. Eva Rowe, who lost her parents in the explosion, stated she believes they were "murdered" by BP's "culture of greed" and said "Money, money and profits" caused her parent's death. Rowe and others spoke at a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Witnesses at the same hearing pointed fingers at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for not inspecting the refinery frequently enough and failure to enforce workplace safety standards. Carolyn Merritt, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), told the hearing that BP had a "broken safety culture." The company received numerous warnings from OSHA that their equipment was dangerous and should be replaced. Merritt maintains that the "broken safety culture" is not limited to BP and exists in workplaces everywhere in this country. Merritt has called for an increase in resources and funding to allow OSHA to fully inspect the nation's workplaces. "OSHA simply lacks enough trained inspectors," she said.

AFL-CIO analysts have concluded that there has been an erosion in federal job safety programs since the Bush administration took office in 2001. In real dollars, the Bush administration has slashed OSHA's budget by $25.4 million when the 2008 budget is compared to the budget in 2001. James Parks, in a national AFL-CIO publication, points out, "The Bush administration also is proposing to totally eliminate funding for worker safety and health training and education programs. Every year since taking office, the administration has sought to slash or eliminate funding for worker training. But each year, Congress rejected these proposed cuts and maintained funding for worker safety training programs."

The CSB has recommended that USW work with the American Petroleum Industry to develop new safety standards. They asked, "Who knows better about the daily problems and how best to deal with them than the people who work there?"

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