Justice Department to Weigh Whether to Pursue Criminal Charges Against BP

BP Products North America Inc. continues to feel the shockwaves from the deadly March 23 blast at its Texas City, Texas, refinery, as OSHA recently referred the case to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.

As part of a settlement with BP announced in September, OSHA meted out the largest fine in the agency's history $21.4 million and 303 willful violations stemming from the March 23 refinery accident. At the time, the agency did not say whether it would refer the case to the Justice Department.

Department of Labor spokesperson Al Belsky told Occupationalhazards.com on Dec. 13 that OSHA has referred the case to the Department of Justice, which now will decide whether to go forward with criminal prosecution.

If the Justice Department decides to pursue criminal charges against BP, the result could be as much as 6 months' jail time and/or a $250,000 fine for company executives and a fine of $500,000 for the company.

BP earlier this month released a report from its internal investigation of the March 23 accident, which killed 15 workers and injured about 170 others. The report asserts that Texas City workers' failure to follow procedures played a major role in the accident, and it also points to long-term breakdowns in morale, communication, management oversight and the safety culture across the refinery as "underlying causes."

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Investigation Board's (CSB) Don Holmstrom, lead investigator for CSB's inquiry into the March 23 accident, said Nov. 10 that "the mistakes that were made in Texas City have their roots in decisions made by managers at the facility and the corporate level, sometimes years earlier."

CEO Carolyn Merritt has said the March 23 tragedy was "completely preventable."

In addition to possible criminal charges, BP has been hit with a number of lawsuits from victims' families and injured workers. The company, which has set aside $700 million to resolve such claims, says it has settled many of the suits.

A phone call seeking comment from BP was not immediately returned.

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