Sure, the fines against BP for the Deepwater Horizon explosion may be some of the largest ever in U.S. history. But isn’t the bigger headline the criminal charges against four BP employees? Some are saying this is a significant shift in government policy.
Here’s a summary of the criminal charges against individuals so far in the BP case:
- The two highest-ranking BP supervisors who were on the Deepwater Horizon on the day of the explosion, Don Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, face 23 criminal counts: 11 of seaman’s manslaughter, 11 of involuntary manslaughter and a violation of the Clean Water Act.
- David Rainey, BP’s former head of Gulf of Mexico exploration, faces charges of hiding information from Congress and lying to law enforcement officials.
- In April, Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was arrested on charges of intentionally destroying evidence requested by federal authorities investigating the explosion.
All four men face years in prison and huge fines.
The indictments of Vidrine and Kaluza make damning accusations against the two men: “Despite these ongoing, glaring indications on the drill pipe that the well was not secure, defendants Kaluza and Vidrine again failed to phone engineers onshore to alert them to the problem, and failed to investigate further.”
Lawyers for the accused have been howling with protests.
An attorney for Vidrine called the charges “a miscarriage of justice.”
The new normal?
As much as their lawyers might not like it, their clients “are the faces of a renewed effort by the Justice Department to hold executives accountable for their actions,” according to an article in The New York Times.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference, “I hope that this sends a clear message to those who would engage in this kind of reckless and wanton conduct.”
The Times article goes on to say:
“Legal scholars said that by charging individuals, the government was signaling a return to the practice of prosecuting officers and managers, and not just their companies, in industrial accidents, which was more common in the 1980s and 1990s.”
One glaring example of how the practice wasn’t used in the previous decade: There was no prosecution of corporate officers in connection with the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers.
OSHA fined BP $80 million dollars for the Texas City explosion. The company agreed to pay $50 million and contested the remaining amount.
That sounds like a lot of money to the average individual. Yet, five years later, Deepwater Horizon happened to the same company.
Workplace safety experts have noted that, while nonfatal injury rates have gone down in the U.S., fatalities have not. Somehow, companies have gotten better at reducing minor injuries, but catastrophes continue to happen. Investigator criticized BP for just that: The company was more concerned with preventing slips-and-falls than ensuring proper process safety.
Perhaps, holding more executives, managers and supervisors responsible for these catastrophes is an attempt by the federal government to get those fatality numbers to move in the right direction — down.
What do you think? Should the government pursue more cases against executives, managers and supervisors in connection with workplace catastrophes that claim lives and limbs? Let us now in the comments below.