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Report Blasts BP Oil Company for Safety Failures

A panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker criticizes the London-based BP oil company for multiple safety lapses at U.S. facilities, which contributed to the March 2005 blast at a plant near Houston that killed 15 people. VOA's Greg Flakus has more on the story from Houston.

The highly critical report released in Houston Tuesday says BP senior executives failed to implement safe operating procedures at its US refineries, causing widespread problems. The accident at the BP plant in Texas City, south of Houston, in March 2005 occurred when workers restarted a unit after a maintenance shutdown. Previous investigations of that incident revealed a number of problems including malfunctioning equipment, outdated or nonexistent safety plans and poor communication between workers and management.

The Baker panel concluded in the report, "BP has not provided effective process safety leadership and has not adequately established process safety as a core value across all five of its US refineries."

James Baker says the panel found evidence of negligence, but nothing to indicate managers of the London-based company deliberately shortchanged safety.

"We could not determine that BP ever purposely withheld resources with respect to safety-related issues or practices," he said.

Baker says the purpose of the panel was not to find fault or blame company officials for accidents, but to evaluate BP's safety procedures and make recommendations. He says if the company implements the panel's recommendations, it could become an industry leader in terms of safe operations.

The report recommends that BP appoint an independent monitor to routinely report on progress being made to improve safety as outlined in 10 recommendations from the panel. The 11-person panel headed by James Baker included people with expertise in various aspects of industrial process safety.

BP issued a statement Tuesday indicating it was already taking steps to address the issues raised by the Baker panel. BP Group Chief Executive John Browne says many of the panel recommendations are similar to suggestions made by internal investigation teams.

BP's safety procedures are also under investigation by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which called on BP to create the independent panel last year. The federal investigation is expected to be complete in about two months.