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Safety culture suffers if leadership is lacking


THE BAKER PANEL'S report on the importance of "management engagement" in preventing disasters such as the 2005 explosion at BP P.L.C.'s Texas City, Texas, refinery never should have needed to be written.

As we report on page 3, the panel found that BP did not provide leadership on process safety issues at the refinery. The result was not the creation of the culture of safety that every workplace needs, but rather a sense of complacency about critical process safety issues, according to the panel. And that complacency played a role in creating conditions in which an explosion and fire that took 15 lives could occur, requiring BP to set aside $1.6 billion to deal with liabilities arising out of the tragedy.

The panel's report underscores what everyone involved in workplace safety should know, and should have known for a long time: Management sets the tone where workplace safety is involved, and if management happens to be tone deaf, safety will suffer.

BP has promised to follow the report's recommendations, and had in fact put some changes in place before the Baker panel issued its document. But we can only hope that others will heed the clear message of the report that never should have had to be written so that we will not be reading a depressingly similar report in the future.