A BP subsidiary responsible for a 2005 blast that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others at a Texas refinery will pay a fine of $50.6 million, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on Friday.

BP Products North America Inc. will additionally allocate a minimum of $500 million towards taking immediate steps to protect those now working at the refinery, as per the agreement that the company struck with the government.

“This agreement achieves our goal of protecting workers at the refinery and ensuring that critical safety upgrades are made as quickly as possible,” said Labour Secretary Hilda Solis. She added that the size of the penalty reflected “BP’s disregard for workplace safety and shows that we will enforce the law so workers can return home safe at the end of their day.”

Another blow

The fine was yet another blow to the oil major which has come in for scathing attacks from environmental groups, the administration and those affected by the devastating oil spill from its offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which continued incessantly until a few weeks ago, was due to an explosion on the rig in April that was again blamed on lax safety standards.

Under the latest agreement, BP is required to immediately perform safety reviews of the refinery equipment as per set schedules and make permanent corrections. According to a statement, the agreement also identified many items in need of immediate attention and provided an “unprecedented level of oversight of BP’s safety program” including regular meetings with OSHA, frequent site inspections and the submission of quarterly reports for the agency’s review.

Assistant Labour Secretary for OSHA David Michaels said, “Safer conditions at this refinery should result from this arrangement, which goes far beyond what can normally be achieved through abatement of problems identified in citations... Make no mistake, OSHA will be watching to ensure that BP complies with the agreement and safeguards its workers.”

Higher fine

The fine announced this week was substantially higher than a September 2005 penalty of $21 million imposed on BP as a direct consequence of the Texas City refinery explosion. The fine was fixed at a higher level after a follow-up investigation in 2009, wherein OSHA discovered that that BP had “failed to live up to several extremely important terms” of a preliminary improvements agreement. As a result, OSHA said in a statement, it had cited BP for “failure to abate” violations with penalties totalling a record $50.6 million that BP now has agreed to pay.

During the 2009 investigation OSHA said it had further identified “439 new wilful violations and assessed more than $30 million in penalties. It said that litigation before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission regarding those violations and penalties was ongoing and was not impacted by today’s settlement.

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