The explosion of the BP oil rig raises a huge number of issues in a variety of safety and environmental disciplines. In much of the media reportage, the plight of the workers on the rig has been given much less attention.
One media report has described BP as
“a London-based multinational oil giant with the worst safety record of any major oil company operating refineries in the United States.”
The oil rig, Deepwater horizon, was leased by BP through Transocean.
On 3 May 2010 a maritime injury lawyer with Gordon, Ellias, and Seely, Jeff Seely, reportedly acting on behalf of the a family of one of the (presumed) dead workers from rig, Karl Kleppinger, released a Youtube video, produced by the World Socialist Web Site, in support of his legal action against BP and others claiming negligence.
Seely makes some interesting points about how the oil rig operator handled the survivors of the explosion by moving the survivors to another oil rig rather than the mainland which was just as close. He also says that part of the motivation for this was so that company-appointed lawyers could take statements from the over 100 survivors.
Seely questions the silence of the Obama administration in the days shortly after the disaster where the issue of worker safety and the survivors was not mentioned.
The Kleppinger suit is one of three law suits filed over the oil rig explosion. This particular suit was lodged within two days of the disaster itself. It is hard to understand why legal action would be taken in such early days after a disaster, when the death of the worker has not been confirmed, and the emergency response is still continuing.
“There are so many different things that should have prevented this. … The reality is, frankly, we probably won’t know for a few months exactly everything…”
American legal processes are a mystery to many of us from outside the US but the actions of company-appointed lawyers, questioned by Seely, are not dissimilar from lawyers in Australia who have stated that the first thing any employer should do after a workplace incident is to call their lawyers and get everything under lawyer-client privilege as soon as possible. It is no wonder that the companies involves with the current disaster, BP, Transocean et al, are pointing fingers at each other and running for cover. They know that whatever are the personal or environmental consequences of the disaster, a bigger disaster is awaiting them in the American Courts.
The companies involved in the disaster and clean-up are understandably reluctant to discuss events that now have an obvious legal context. This is one of the sad facts of prompt, or too-prompt, legal action by some firms which results in companies “clamming up”. If the families are still missing loved ones who worked on the rigs, if deaths are still to be confirmed, is it no surprise when families begin to complain of not being told anything?
Disaster management experts advise corporations to regularly release information on the progress of rescues or emergency management. Any attempt to provide important information to the families of one’s employees is seriously inhibited by such early legal action.
BP has said on its website:
“Of the 126 people on board, 11 are missing, feared dead, and 17 were injured, three of them critically. BP’s Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward said: “On behalf of all of us at BP, my deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends who have suffered such a terrible loss. Our thoughts also go out to their colleagues, especially those who are recovering from their injuries.”
If the community and regulatory pressure continues to focus on BP, primarily, the company may need to be reminded of a public speech made by John Mogford on 24 April 2006 where he said, in relation to the Texas City Refinery explosion:
“…. From the moment BP began investigating what happened at Texas City we made a conscious decision as a company to share what we learned with others – the local community, other companies, regulators, the media, and industry as a whole.
There’s nothing proprietary about an awful incident of this kind. But one thing we can do is to be as open and transparent as possible so that it never recurs. It should not take others to have a fatal accident to learn the lessons we did.”