[Robert] Dudley announced that BP would set up a new global safety division and make other changes to the way the company operates as it seeks to absorb some lessons from the explosion of a oil rig five months ago.As much as one might wish to be optimistic about these changes, it's easy to be skeptical:
BP has made similar pledges in the past to improve safety and its reputation.BP also replaced then-CEO John Browne with Tony Hayward, himself now the outgoing CEO.
In July 2006, chastened by a string of safety, environmental and legal problems in their American operations, BP pledged to restore credibility by bringing in outside experts, being more transparent and investing more heavily in safety and maintenance.
Yet as the Center for Public Integrity noted in May:
Two refineries owned by oil giant BP account for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years ...In other words, BP's 2006 pledge went unfulfilled. Now, in 2010, we again have a BP pledge to improve its safety -- and again, this pledge is accompanied by a change in CEOs.
Top OSHA officials told the Center in an interview that BP was cited for more egregious willful violations than other refiners because it failed to correct the types of problems that led to the 2005 Texas City accident even after OSHA pointed them out.
It's too early to call it a pattern: Dudley deserves a chance to show what he can do. But don't hold your breath. You don't get a whopping 97% of "egregious willful" OSHA violations in your industry because you had a single bad apple at the top of the company. You get that dubious honor because you have a corporate culture that makes safety a low priority, and you don't fix that problem by making a new safety division. You have to change the corporation's values, and that is not always easy (although you'd think that killing people, as both the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and 2005 Texas City refinery disasters did, would help you bulldozer over any internal pockets of stupid inertial resistance).
BP's press release announcing the formation of the new safety division doesn't give me much hope for real change:
In his message to staff Dudley said: “As I take up my new role I am aware of two things. First, there is a pressing need to rebuild trust in BP around the world. Second, BP’s people have both the commitment and the capability to rebuild that trust.And:
[BP chairman Carl-Henric] Svanberg added: “I believe the changes which Bob is introducing today are vital steps in the rebuilding of confidence and trust in the company. I recognise there are still difficult challenges ahead. But we have assembled a strong and able new team and are developing a robust strategy to deal with them and to deliver our ultimate goal – the restoration of shareholder value.”I guess Tony Hayward is not the only tone-deaf executive at BP, because these two gents clearly just don't get it. BP's first task is not "to rebuild trust in BP," and the company's "ultimate goal" isn't "the restoration of shareholder value." Let me spell it out for you, guys:
BP's first task and only goal is to stop endangering its employees and the public.
The lack of trust in BP is an effect of your corporate illness, you cretins.
Messrs. Dudley and Svanberg, this is not a public relations problem: this is a cultural problem within BP. As long as you keep thinking of your corporate image first, your employees will continue to be at risk. (So will your stock options, if that's what motivates you.) Get your heads out of your posteriors and fix your company, not its image.
For crying out loud, what will it take to drive this point through your thick skulls?