Petrochemical maker British Petroleum continues to react to a string of safety incidents, including the massive refinery explosion in March that killed 15 people and injured 170 others injured in Texas City, Texas. That chemical accident occurred months after two fatal accidents in 2004. Then, on July 28 and Aug. 10 of this year, two other incidents at the Texas City refinery — one of which involved a hydrogen fire — required alert notifications to the public, according to numerous press reports.

Responding to a recommendation made by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which is investigating the March 23 explosion, BP Group chief executive John Browne said a safety culture assessment panel will be set up and headed by an external chairperson, with assistance from outside safety experts and BP staff representatives.

Browne said in a statement: “The Texas City explosion was the worst tragedy in the recent history of BP, and we will do everything possible to ensure nothing like it happens again. Today’s recommendation from the CSB is a welcome development and we take it seriously."

According to CSB investigative findings, operators at the Texas City refinery failed to maintain the plant facilities properly and ignored defects in the unit that exploded in March, killing 15 workers and injuring another 170. The problems were known as early as two weeks before the incident, but repairs were deferred, the CSB said.

Additionally, safety alarms at the plant that failed to function on the day of the blasts were known to be faulty for some time prior to the incident, yet company managers delayed repairing or replacing them, CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said.

BP has made a number of moves in the aftermath of the explosion. The company has appointed a new refinery manager, a new health, safety and environment manager, a new compliance manager and a new maintenance manager.

The organization has been simplified to ensure everyone involved in maintenance and operation of the refinery knows what they are accountable for and to whom they are accountable. Roles, responsibilities and expectations around start-up, operating, maintenance and evacuation procedures have been clarified. Action has been taken to ensure procedures are followed across the site.

On a longer-term basis, the company will halt the venting of heavier-than-air hydrocarbon vapors from blow-down drums and stacks in the refinery. The company has prohibited the occupancy of office trailers within 500 feet of blow down stacks and flares and has leased a 100,000-square foot building in downtown Texas City to provide offices for employees whose work does not require their presence at the refinery.

BP has told regulators it is doing all within its power to ensure safety at each of its North American facilities. But the Chemical Safety Board, for the first time in its eight-year history, called for the immediate formation of the independent panel to assess safety culture at each site without waiting until all investigations are done.

The action was classified as an "urgent recommendation." BP was ordered to pay for the studies, but have them performed by outside experts. The special panel has up to a year to report its findings to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Organized labor and allied groups have been demanding accountability from the company and pushing federal investigators to consider criminal sanctions, according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle.

Earlier this year, the United Steel Workers of America called on BP to shift its priorities away from public relations and toward workplace safety. Two Congressmen followed up those calls by introducing legislation that would make employers accountable for worker safety regardless of whether the worker is a direct employee or under contract.

Supporting the action is the year-old Campaign to Stop Corporate Killing, a grassroots effort to make companies criminally liable for worker deaths, which spearheaded the National Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) Network.