Original Post by Lisa Neuberger:
In evaluating the moves BP made after the Texas City Refinery explosion and the oil spill from the corroded pipeline into Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, I think the company was trying to do the right thing. BP hired James Baker to help it identify its shortcomings and make real improvements. The company implemented the changes the Baker Report recommended to the tune of $7 billion over four years at BP’s US refineries and pipelines along with a $300 million overhaul of process safety management improvements at refineries.
However, I think company leaders never gave their people a clear and consistent message on company expectations. With the massive, expensive, and complicated process involved in getting the right supplies to the Deepwater Horizon and performing the drilling, there was no clear chain of command or decision-making authority. So many people were involved in so many steps, that no one really knew what was going on. For instance, one of the leaders in the company, Gagliano, wasn’t included in the decision to use or not use additional centralizers. He, in turn, did not pass along the possible ramifications of this decision to others who needed to know.
In addition, the chain of command on the Deepwater Horizon itself was inexperienced, with the longest-serving manager being David Rich at 6 months. Workers who are new to their jobs are three times more likely to be injured than workers who have been at their jobs for a year of longer. (Trotto, 2016) While it’s true that these new workers were managers, the same idea holds true, that a lack of experience on the rig may have contributed to the disaster.
Cost savings and losses were definite factors in decisions being made, but more than anything, it was confusion and a lack of accountability at the top that led to the disaster. Accountability for costs was spread throughout middle management at the company, providing incentives for middle managers to save money over considering risks and being cautious. (Locke 2011)
Locke, Richard M. 2011. “BP and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster of 2010.” MIT Management Sloan School. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported
License. 2011. https://mitsloan.mit.edu/LearningEdge/Leadership/BP-Deepwater-Horizon-Disaster/Pages/BP-and-the-Deepwater-Horizon-Disaster-of-2010.aspx
Trotto, Sarah. 2016. “New Workers, higher risk.” May 22, 2016. safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/14053-new-workers-higher-risk
Great point that clearly delivering expectations is crucial. The Deepwater Horizon scenario showed the importance of having a decision-making authority that leads a group of heavily involved participants. Communication needs to be organized, particularly considering that, in order to create a safe space, communication is necessary. I appreciate the way your post incorporated the problem of lacking accountability in disorganized communication. Awesome statistic about how new workers are more likely to be injured compared to experienced staff as it emphasized the importance of having leadership trainings to retain employees.