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(Washington, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) chaired a hearing of the Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee on BP’s worker protections and workplace safety record.  Murray questioned Dr. Steven Flynn, Vice President of Health, Safety, Security and Environment for BP, on the company’s so-called “culture of safety.” She questioned him on reports that BP workers are afraid of speaking out about safety concerns for fear of being fired.  Murray also asked Flynn about BP’s safety record at Cherry Point in Washington state. This facility was cited for 13 serious safety violations in November, and Senator Muray asked for assurance that changes were being made to protect Washington state workers.

This hearing follows up on a June 10 hearing that Senator Murray called to investigate the failure of oil and gas companies to learn from previous tragedies and implement effective worker safety processes. Murray invited BP executives to that hearing, but they declined the invitation.

“I want to talk about BP’s ‘culture of safety,’” Senator Murray said to Dr. Flynn today. “Your CEO, Tony Hayward, has said that he has a laser focus on safety within the company.  I’m fundamentally concerned that the culture of the company is anything but safety oriented, despite what we hear from senior management.”

“In fact, BP has a record of trying to say the right thing following its many disasters here in the United States, but there is disturbingly little evidence of actual changes on the ground.

“Can you please explain to me, to this committee, and to the American people, what exactly a “culture of safety” means to BP? Can you also tell me when you expect to have it in place, because I’m getting tired of having to worry about companies that handle and process such dangerous and hazardous materials in unsafe ways that endanger workers and our communities?”

Dr. Flynn responded: “Since the accidents at Texas City and Prudhoe Bay, there have been very significant changes that started with a commitment from the top to put safety as the number one priority for the company, but it wasn't just words….We do very rigorous detailed orders to go out and check when things aren't on track and we put in place actions to close them.  So we've made progress over the last five years.  Things have really changed in B.P.”

Murray:  “Well, you described to me and the committee a number of processes and plans.  Can you tell me exactly when you expect to have that all in place?  Because frankly, I'm kind of tired of having to worry about companies that handle processes and dangerous and hazardous materials in unsafe ways that obviously our workers and our communities are impacted by it. So when you described all these processes and these plans and these words on paper.  When is that all going to be in place?”

Flynn:  “Significant changes have already taken place over the last five years.  So there really have been very significant changes -- physical changes on the ground, systems put in place and training underway.  Now, it is a multi-year program.  And I believe there will always be more to do. That's what I spend my entire career doing.”

Murray also asked about BP putting profits over safety: “There are many accounts from workers on the Deepwater Horizon who report that it was the BP engineers and staff who kept cutting corners on safety, overruling additional tests, denying the use of proper equipment, and rushing the completion of the well in order to save costs.  In fact, evidence presented just this week suggest that BP failed to act on reports of failed equipment. Do such reports depict the ‘culture of safety’ that you are trying to establish in the company? What are you going to do to fix these problems?”

Flynn:  “The reports that you described certainly concern me, but the -- we don't know yet what the cause of the -- of the accident on the Deepwater Horizon was.”

Murray: “Well, does it bother you that you know that people were cutting corners and overruling tests and denying the use of proper equipment?”

Flynn: “I've heard the allegations, and of course, if workers have concerns, then naturally we would be concerned.

Murray: “My question to you is does that bother you that that's going on in the company? You're the head of safety.”

Flynn: “We don't know -- we don't know what caused the accident on the Deepwater Horizon. Of course, if workers are concerned, then naturally I'm concerned. And we will -- and when workers raise call -- concerns, we investigate them and put in places to correct that.”

Senator Murray’s full opening statement follow:

“The Subcommittee will come to order.

“On June 10th I held a hearing on the topic of keeping workers safe in the oil and gas industry.  We were joined by expert witnesses from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Steelworkers Union, the Hazardous Materials Programs Office in Contra Costa County, CA, and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. 

“I invited BP to send a representative to help us understand what has been going wrong at their company that has led to so many deaths, injuries and accidents over recent years, and what lessons they have learned from recent disasters at their company—but they declined that invitation.

“I found that decision to be outrageous given the company’s shameful record of workplace safety and worker protections, including:

  • 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster;
  • 15 workers killed and more than 170 injured in a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery;
  • A record $87 million in fines levied against BP by OSHA in October 2009 for failing to correct safety hazards after the Texas City explosion---fines which came after a 6-month inspection revealed hundreds of violations of a settlement agreement put in place to repair hazards at the refinery;
  • Countless reports about unsafe practices at its pipeline operations in Alaska; and
  • Evidence that corners have been cut in operations, cuts that put workers at risk in the interest of maximizing profits.

“The inability or unwillingness to fix known problems raises serious questions about BP’s commitment to create a safe workplace and protect its workers. 

“So I am glad that we were able to work out an arrangement to have BP testify today about its safety practices and record. 

 “This hearing is a bit unusual.  There is only one panel and only one witness:  BP. 

“That’s for a number of reasons.  First, this Sub-Committee, Congress and working people deserve an accounting of BP’s safety practices.  The families of the workers who have been killed under BP’s watch deserve to understand what is going on at the company.  And BP’s own workers—whether they work on-shore or off-shore, whether they work on drilling rigs, in refineries, or on pipelines—deserve to know what the company is doing, and will do differently, to ensure their safety and avoid another disaster.

“But let me be entirely clear. BP is not the only problem company in the industry.  And fixing BP’s safety record is not the only solution we need.  Despite what anyone tries to say—this is not a safe industry. The materials being handled are toxic, highly combustible, and deadly.  The processes and procedures used are complex, and carry inherent risks.  And too many companies still carry a swagger from the early days of the industry—more wildcat than refined.  BP may be an extreme case of a company with unsafe practices, but it is not alone. 

“In just the last 3 months there have been 21 fires, 26 deaths, and 33 injuries in oil and gas refineries alone.

“In fact in 2010, there has been on average one fire per week at our refineries.  And I should say those are the fires that have been reported, as refineries have no legal obligation to report every incident.

“Between 2006 and 2009 there were an additional 30 worker deaths, 1,298 injuries, and 514 fires on rigs located on the outer continental shelf.

“To me, this doesn’t seem like simply a string of bad luck—it appears to be a pattern of safety violations across the entire industry. And I am very concerned that it is the result of oil and gas companies that put profits and production over workers and safety.

“It seems to me that the oil and gas industry as a whole has a hard time learning from their mistakes and making sure their workers are protected.  And it seems to me that BP is an exceptionally poor student.

“This is simply unacceptable.

“We need to make sure everyone knows that business as usual in this industry will no longer be tolerated. 

“So once again, I am looking forward to hearing from our witness about this important issue.

“But before I introduce him, I’d like to recognize Senator Isakson for his opening statement.”