Friday, October 30, 2009


The Houston South Area Office issued BP a record citation today: $87,000,000. That's right 87 million dollars!

Some people who support the current administration are going to jump up and down and say "See, I told you!" But I would note one thing, this case was built on the 2005 case (actually the settlement agreement from that case), whcih was conducted under the previous administration. The 2005 case had been the largest penalty ever, $21 million.

It's unlikely that any of the political appointees were ever on site, and I doubt any of them know enough about PSM to influence the citations. I don't think the previous administration deserved credit for the 2005 case any more than I think the current administration deserves credit for this case.

The credit for this case goes to the CSHOs in the Houston South AO, and all of those who supported them, others in the Area Office, the Regional Office, the Regional Solicitors, and maybe even one or two people in the National Office.

Well done one and all.


  1. I agree - good work by OSHA staff. But even this record fine is only equal to less than one week's profit made by BP since the inital explosion and deaths.

  2. Well then, make the penalty $87 million X 52 weeks equals $4,524 million or $4.524 Billion. The Government can do anything they want anyway. It's called Area Office/National discretion to achieve deterence. What's stopping you? You have THE POWER!!!

  3. explosion 2005... recent inspection 2009...willfulls, repeats...looks lie OSHA may have given BP a way out. After looking at a couple of items, this looks all very subjective and has the appearance of someone having an axe to grind. I hope for OSHA's sake they have some chemical engineers and other engineer types on staff at Houston South. Also given the current make up of the review commission, I think this can be beaten back. But, that's just my opinion. Good Luck

  4. Some eye-opening documents:

    BP's response to OSHA's "failure to comply" letter.

    OSHA vs. BP documents

  5. This whole case smells funny to me. As in politically motivated. If it was really that bad in the plant, wouldn't OSHA issue an imminent danger?!?!? They didn't so... this is all politically driven. Too bad the current administration cares more about fines and cow-towing (spelling?) than actually protecting workers' lives. So, if rates go up in the coming years, can we finally agree that Enforcement has little if anything to do with safe worksites? I think so.

  6. Can someone help me out on some of the BP and OSHA documents that I found in the Galveston Daily News. Thanks

    Here is some interesting info concerning the OSHA citations that BP did not document that equipment complies with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP).

    In addition most of the citations are concerned with inlet line pressure drop on numerous pressure reliefs did not comply with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP), such as API Recommended Practice 520

    API RP 520's recommended guideline of 3% inlet pressure loss is not RAGAGEP for existing relief valve installations

    RAGAGEP is not a standard or code; it is a benchmark against which performance can be judged.There is no mandatory code that governs relief valve inlet pressure loss.

    OSHA believes there is a mandatory standard in the refining industry that prohibits inlet pressure loss exceeding 3% on existing relief valve installations. That is not legally or factually correct; there is no such legal obligation and it is not common refining industry practice to apply 3% to existing relief valves.

    Most refiners in the United States allow inlet pressure losses on existing relief valve installations in excess of 3% and up to 5%.

    OSHA is now requiring that BP must modify its relief systems beyond applicable industry standards.

    It appears that the terms of the 2005 Settlement of Agreement (SOA) have changed with the new administration and OSHA leadership of a new sheriff in town.

    There is no amount of money that will bring those workers who perished back. Yet at the same time there needs to be equitable balance in all this. Unfortunately, an opinion that OSHA and many do not agree on.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Anon 3: They do have some good engineers, and they have access to others.

    Keep in mind that much of this is based on BP violating the Settlement Agreement, so they agreed to do these things, but then didn't.

    Also, the OSHRC only had two members right now, and while Thompson seems to be anti-worker, Rogers has a history of being pretty even with pro-worker leanings. I think they'll be fine in front of the judges.

    Anon 5: Imminent Danger is almost worthless. When we issue an imminent danger notice, the employer doesn't actually have to stop the operation, nor do the employees have to stop working. Sometimes we can talk an employer into voluntarily fixing the problem, but most CSHOs I know don't even bother.

    And no, I won't agree that enforcement doesn't work, I've seen it work and as I previously posted, I expect the numbers to edge up.

    By the way, it's kowtow.

    John: I haven't seen the case file so I'm guessing here, but the PSM standard requires that employers document their design specs, including:

    1910.119(d)(3)(i)(D) - Relief system design and design basis;

    1910.119(d)(3)(i)(F) - Design codes and standards employed;

    If the company then doesn't follow those specs (ie API consensus standard), they are in violation of 1910.119(j)(5).

    Alternatively, under the settlement agreement the company could have agreed to follow API RP 520, again, I haven't seen the agreement so I'm still guessing.

    We have a long, and successful history with the PSM standard citing exactly like this.

  9. Thanks Abel.It just seemed from reading some of the documents that the voluntary consensus with API Recommended Practice 520 was at issue concerning existing and new pressure reliefs. Thats why there was so many citations. The CHSO's cited every pressure relief in the plant.

    Sort of like if I found one bolt in your car at issue, then I'd go on down the list and cite every blot in your car. Thats alot of bolts.

  10. John,
    It is called an instance by instance citation. They make each bolt a Willful Citation with a penalty of $70,000 each. You decide if that sounds right or is an abuse of power! Signed OSHA vet from 1970s.

  11. It is interesting that people seem to think large fines are inappropriate for OSHA violations, and yet EPA has been issuing such penalties for years in environmental cases. Exxon wound up paying about $1 billion in fines and damages nearly 20 years ago for their oil spill in Alaska. And they are still one of the most profitable companies in the world--yet more environmentally conscious than they were before that experience. OSHA's fine structure has been out of sync with reality for a very long time. Doubtful BP will wind up paying anywhere near $87 million, but it gets people's attention.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. After reading OSHA's webpage and links on the case, I am surprised Barab and Fairfax would go that far out on a limb just to get a big first case for the new Administration. They must have thought the company would rollover. This is going to come back to bite OSHA. I can't say that I will be disappointed when it does.

  14. Anyone else having trouble getting to OSHAUnderground blog besides me? Was it taken down?

  15. John, it is a little like going after every bolt in my car, but only those that aren't installed properly, and only after someone riding in the car died because of it, and only if I still didn't fix it the third time.

    OSHA has always supported employer's use of a progressive disciplinary program to ensure that employees follow safety and health rules. We also use a variation of that with employers. BP has a history of killing people at that plant, as far as I can tell, the last was in January, 2008, which was also an over-pressurization problem, although apparently in a different system.

    Don't forget, this isn't a small employer we're putting out of business, that $87 million penalty represents three (3) days worth of profit for BP, and that's three days in a down quarter, two days in a good one.

    Three days profit for all those lives? Doesn't seem like a very big penalty to me.

  16. I propose OSHA stop using citation fines in specific dollar amounts. But, rather OSHA fines a company so many days or weeks(or months for willful citations) of the company's gross income for a year. (or OSHA could seize the firstborn of the Company President.

  17. Any proposals to offset this image of OSHA? Quote from World Net Daily "OSHA is an agency that already has a well-earned reputation for abusing its authority and reaching beyond its stated purpose."

  18. Why would we even try to offset that quote? The World Net Daily is a pretty extreme anti-government site. My impression is that they think all government is abusive.

    But it does show the world that we, as OSHAns, live in. On one hand the far right claims we abuse power and hurt business, and on the other, the far left who thinks we are failing to do our job.

    It kind of seems to me that if both extremes feel we're failing, then we're probably right where we belong.