Safety and OSHA News

Former BP employees: We were pressured not to report problems

In the wake of the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers, an article by ProPublica, an investigative journalism website, quotes former BP employees as saying management pressured or harassed them not to report safety problems. Reports detailing BP internal investigations in 2001, 2004 and 2007 were provided to ProPublica by a person close to BP who believes the company hasn’t yet done enough to correct safety and environmental shortcomings.

Separate interviews with former BP employees back up the findings of the internal investigations.

Included in ProPublica’s report:

  • BP’s internal 2001 report warned that the company faced a “fundamental culture of mistrust” by its workers, in part because senior management lacked a structure of accountability.
  • The 2004 internal investigation stated, “Pressure on contractor management to hit performance metrics (e.g. fewer OSHA recordables) creates an environment where fear of retaliation and intimidation did occur.”
  • Once again in 2007, a report echoed BP’s previous internal investigations, finding, BP pressured its contractors and employees to save money. “Many of the people interviewed indicate that they felt pressured for production ahead of safety and quality,” the report said.

The BP situation has caught the attention of OSHA head David Michaels, and he ties it to one of his predominant current themes about injury logs.

At the recent American Industrial Hygiene Conference in Denver, Michaels said he was struck by the fact that top executives at BP were on the offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico handing out certificates and awards to people for having worked seven years without a recordable injury, the very night before the rig blew up.

Michaels called for reforms that stop measuring safety performance by injuries or lack thereof, and instead start measuring risk of significant events occurring.

ProPublica’s article is here.

How do you encourage employees to let management know about hazards? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

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  1. Preston Meanus says:

    Make them feel good about reporting hazards and that they will be taken care in the shortest amount of time. Preston

  2. OHSA needs to take some responsibility for this. It is the “law of unintended consequences” with all the best of intentions. Thinking that safety is about injury prevention misleads and misdirects resources. Gov’t tells companies they are safe if they have low recordable incident rates. Companies set up bonus programs or contractor management programs based on recordables. Suddenly no one is reporting or we are interfering in personal medical treatment sometimes to the detriment of the employee. The system is insane and in desperate need of reform starting with use of operational risk management metrics.

  3. Gustavo Valero says:

    we encourage all of our employees,to report every single near miss that way we learn more from them than any accident.

  4. I agree with Rob.
    OSHA desperately needs to change the recordability criteria.

  5. Carina, you will like this excerpt from Jordan Barab testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety:

    “The National Emphasis Program was adopted partly because it was recognized that conventional methods of assessing workplace safety, such as injury and illness rates are not adequate indicators of the risks of fires, explosions and other catastrophic accidents, nor do they account for the fact that at many refineries, much of the most dangerous work is contracted out and injuries to the contactors do not show up in the refinery operator’s injury rates.”

  6. In Labor V Sumit contractors, under OSHRC No.03-1622 (2007)OSHA agreed it may no longer cite a general contractor as a “controlling employer” under the multi employer worksite doctrine if the GC did not create the hazard AND the contractors employees were not exposed to that hazard. I take this to mean both as you can see by my capitolized and.

  7. Robin K. says:

    Too often, employer management teams believe that if the injury/illness rate is low, then all systems are safe. If you comply with every OSHA Standard currently on the books, people (employees) will still be maimed, injured, or killed. OSHA has to take some of the blame for this premise. Only the OSHA VPP and SHARP programs emphasize an holistic approach to injury and illness prevention.

  8. Vincentp says:

    We encourage employees to utilize the Behavioral Based Safety (BBS) program to report unsafe acts or conditions. This way no one gets reprimanded since they are anonymous. I have found and fixed many unsafe conditions at our sites due to this program. This has also helped employees to buy in to a safety culture.

  9. My personal opinion is that while the VPP and SHARP programs had their moment in time they too need to evolve. See APC shocked and dismayed by OSHA action – These types of programs continue to measure what is being done, rather than how it is working.

    By looking at how the safety program is functioning we get a much better idea of both risk and success of mitigation strategies. Perhaps with this higher standard applied we will start to see some success in the maimed, injured and killed rates.

    I certainly agree that OHSA and safety as a profession needs to take some responsibility. After all it has been the safety professionals that have recommended use of the “old and tired” performance measures to determine success.

  10. Robin, we’ve all heard all the rumors about cutting these programs out of the budget. I think some % of citation moneys should be held to keep these programs alive instead of just dumped into the Congressional “General fund”.

  11. Robin K. says:

    Thanks Zack, I agree with funding these programs as you outlined.

    Rob, I also agree that the functions of a Health and Safety Program are important factors. However, SHARP and VPP are programs that are effective. One question to ask is, where would APC be without having VPP distinctions? I was formerly with OSHA Consultation and most of the violations issued to APC fall under the industrial hyiene perview. APC recieved a lot of violations for Confined Space, HazWopper, Process Safety Management, HazCom, Lockout Tagout, Welding Hazards, Flammable and Combustible Liquids, etc.

    Speaking from experience, there are few industrial hygienists on the SHARP or VPP inspection teams. Who is responsible for these teams and the training of these teams? OSHA. Contrary to popular belief, most VPP inspectors are not certified or degreed health and safety professionals.

    In the early 2000’s a number of industrial hygienists and EHS professionals were laid off by companies who did not think there was a tangible value in dealing with health hazards. EHS roles were combined with other roles, such a quality, leaving most HSE professionals scrambling with little budget and I know several who were laid off when BP absorbed their companies. There are many contibutors to these problems, not just at APC>

  12. Irishtom says:

    This is what comes of breaking down unions. If that drilling rig had been a union job the steward could’ve shut the job down before the explosion. Especially as the safety man on the rig was evidently a rubber back, a not at all rare thing.

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