Texas report to maul BP management

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The Independent Online

BP management will be sharply criticised in a report to be published tomorrow by the former US secretary of state James Baker into the fire at its Texas City refinery two years ago which killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more.

The damning report, which was commissioned by BP itself in the wake of the disaster, will point to serious safety failures in the running of the company's US refinery operations, and make a long list of recommendations for action.

However, the 250-page report is not thought to criticise individual directors by name, and suggestions that it could lead directly to casualties at board level have been played down.

John Manzoni, head of BP's refining and marketing division, is the board director with responsibility for the Texas facility.

Publication of the report comes just four days after BP announced that its chief executive, Lord Browne, is to step down early in July - some 18 months sooner than he had intended. The Texas City fire, in March 2005, was one of several incidents over the past two years that have undermined his position at the company and contributed to BP's poor share price performance.

A preliminary report published last October by the US Chemical Safety Board found that BP management had been aware of significant safety problems in its worldwide refining operations for three years before the Texas fire and yet had cut maintenance spending on the facility without regard to the potential for a "catastrophic accident". The board's final report is still being completed.

The fire was America's worst industrial accident in more than a decade, and although BP has settled nearly all the civil actions arising from the disaster at a cost of more than $1bn, the company and individual managers still face the threat of criminal prosecution.

The Baker report, commissioned at the end of 2005, is not expected to lead directly to any sackings or apportion blame. Rather, it was set up to assist BP in learning lessons from the incident and take steps to improve safety at its five US refineries to avoid a repetition in the future. The Texas plant had a history of accidents, with 23 fatalities in the 30 years prior to the 2005 fire - an average of one every 16 months.

BP has already overhauled its US operations and, in particular, its safety management, and a large number of the recommendations of the Baker inquiry are likely to have been implemented. Last week it signed a new safety agreement with American unions, giving them more power to sit alongside refinery managers to oversee the operation of plants.

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