BP’s Deepwater Sunset: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The worst oil spill in US history began when BP’s drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crewmen and releasing as much as 65,000 barrels of oil per day into the sea. This disaster was the logical consequence of the worst safety record of any oil company operating in North America. As examples, consider the following:

? In 2005, an explosion in BP’s Texas City refinery killed 15 people and injured 180 more; a post-accident review indicated that safety procedures were either not followed or had not been established. BP was fined $21 million for the accident.

? In 2007, a corroded BP pipeline burst, releasing 200,000 gallons of crude oil into Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; this created an environmental hazard and required massive clean-up efforts. Investigators concluded that BP was aware of the pipeline corrosion but failed to take any corrective action. The spill cost BP vast sums of money in lost production during repairs, criminal fines, and state compensation.

? Since 2005, BP has admitted to breaking US environmental and safety laws, has paid $373 million in fines, and has been cited 760 times.

The financial benefits associated with creating a safe working environment are as obvious as is the moral obligation to do so. How do organizations create safe working environments? If the problem is placed in the proper conceptual context, the answer becomes quite clear. The three components that must come together to create a culture of workplace safety are: (a) worker personality; (b) a culture of worker engagement; and (c) organizational leadership.

Based on these three vital components of workplace safety, Hogan has developed a system of reliable and valid measures of individual differences in safety orientation.

The first step in creating a safe working environment involves hiring and training people who are disposed to work safely.

The second step concerns creating “engagement,” a concept at the intersection of employees and their organizations. Safety orientation is a trait; engagement is a state that is characterized by an employee’s feeling that the policy is consistent with that person’s own values, tendency to be energized by the policy, and sense that the policy makes overall sense in the workplace.

The third and most important step in creating a safety culture depends on the leadership of an organization. The principal factor driving accidents at work is the degree to which the leadership team emphasizes safety. This essential step in creating a safe working environment involves leadership teams building a culture of engagement with safety as a key element. If leadership teams fail to facilitate engagement, no amount of safety training will matter, nor will the safety orientations of individual workers.