Employment Law Report

OSHA issues $87 Million Record Fine Against BP

By Laurel Cornell

On October 30, 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued the largest fine in OSHA history against BP for failing to rectify safety hazards after a 2005 explosion at a Texas refinery which killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.  The $87 million record fine was implemented following a six month OSHA investigation, which exposed hundreds of violations by BP of a 2005 settlement agreement to correct known hazards at the Texas refinery, the third largest in the United States. 

More specifically, OSHA determined that BP had committed 270 violations of the 2005 agreement, which totaled more than $56 million in penalties.  In addition, Agency investigators uncovered 439 new willful violations for failure to repair pressure release safety devices, which resulted in an extra $30.7 million penalty.  The $87 million fine is more than four times the size of any previous OSHA sanction, and replaces the previous $21.7 million fine BP agreed to pay after the 2005 explosion as the largest in OSHA history.  This record fine came after Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’s repeated declarations to take a more aggressive approach in pursuing and enforcing wage and labor laws, and demonstrates how serious (and painful) a company’s failure to comply with the OSHA regulations can be. 

Fined parties have fifteen (15) days to decide whether to pay the penalties and take corrective action, or to contest the fines through the hearing process.  BP has indicated that it will contest the fines.