Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer announced at a press conference in New Orleans last month that the Deepwater Horizon Task Force filed a 14-count information and guilty plea agreement in New Orleans federal court. BP Exploration and Production Inc. was charged with and pled guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter; violations of environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Act; and obstruction of Congress.
If I run my car off a road because I'm texting and mow down 11 people standing at a bus stop, I guarantee that I'm going to jail. As of right now, it's unlikely – despite the company's guilty pleas and indictments against three BP employees – that anyone will serve time in jail for the deaths of the 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon. Frankly, I'm incensed that no one is going to prison.
And I find the fine, to be paid by BP over the next 5 years, to be insultingly low. It might be the largest criminal fine in U.S. history, but it's less than BP earned last quarter. That's right … the fine is less than the profits BP earned for one-quarter of this year. And don't forget that much of the cost of cleanup and damages paid to those impacted are tax write-offs for the company.
Numerous reports from federal agencies and taskforces have placed the blame for the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which killed 11 workers and did untold environmental damage, squarely on BP and its contractors and partners. BP, specifically, was called out for a corporate culture that values production over safety. This is a company that has experienced several workplace incidents that claimed the lives of multiple employees. It also is the company that, following an explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that claimed the lives of 15 workers, blamed some of the workers for causing their own deaths. As they say, "dead men tell no tales." BP also threw four mid-level managers under the bus for that incident.
Fortunately for BP, there are some live workers from the Deepwater Horizon who can take the fall for corporate shortcomings. Criminal charges have been brought against three BP employees for criminal negligence and obstruction of justice. But justice will not be served to their managers and the managers' managers and so on up the BP food chain to the very top, where a corporate culture is born and nurtured.
I don't care what anyone says; a company's safety culture reflects the commitment of the leaders of that company. If they care about safety, then employees care about safety. If a CEO truly is committed to safety leadership, then that company has a world-class safety culture. It's that simple.
I'm fortunate in that I have the pleasure to meet many CEOs who value the lives and health of their employees and their commitment to those employees is reflected in the corporate safety culture. As one of them told me, "I can't imagine having to make that call to a family. Cannot even imagine it. The day I have to make a call like that is the day I step down as CEO because I have failed my employee, I have failed his or her family and I have failed my business."
My Spidey sense tells me that the first thought of the management team of BP, following the news of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was: "How much is this going to cost?"
Here's my answer: For employees and the environment, much too much. For corporate executives, not nearly enough.