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Union argues record OSHA fine "less than half day's profit"

September 30, 2005
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Union officials are unimpressed by last week's record-setting OSHA fine of $21.4 million against BP North America for more than 300 violations identified after an explosion and fire at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 15 workers and injured 170.

"Twenty-one million dollars is a lot to me," said Sonny Sanders, the United Steelworkers (USW) representative at the refinery, in a report circulated by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, "but it’s not much at all to BP. After the explosion, management said that they were setting aside $700 million to pay the cost of settlements with the injured and the families of those killed. OSHA’s fine is just one thirty-fifth of that amount, so it’s not likely to be enough to deter them from reckless behavior."

"That’s less than a half day’s profits for BP, and that won’t act as a deterrent," said Mike Wright, the USW safety and health director. "But OSHA imposed a fine that was close to the maximum allowed, so the fault is not OSHA’s; it’s the penalty structure, which is set by law. Right now the law allows OSHA to issue reduced fines to small businesses that can’t afford to pay a full fine. The law should be changed so that OSHA can also increase penalties against very large companies, like BP."

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