Top Federal Official Says BP Has Potential Safety Problems

ABC News talks with OSHA Chief David Michaels about BP's safety record.

ByPierre Thomas, Jack Cloherty, Jason Ryan and Lisa Jones
May 28, 2010, 7:08 PM

May 28, 2010— -- A top federal safety official says BP has serious and potentially dangerous safety problems at its two U.S. refineries, but is not taking action to correct the problems.

David Michaels, the head of the government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), told ABC News that he can only conclude that BP is putting profits ahead of safety.

"I don't understand why BP doesn't make these changes that we require, but it may be a simple calculation," Michaels said. "They see the cost of fixing the refineries in a way that would satisfy OSHA as being too expensive, so they're going to wait until more people are killed, or more explosions to occur, then they'll hope for the best and make the changes later. I can't explain it any other way. "

BP runs refineries near Toledo, Ohio, and in Texas City, Texas. OSHA inspections have found "systematic problems across both of them," Michaels said.

"We are very concerned about BP and other oil refineries," Michaels said. "These are facilities that when they blow up can injure many people, can kill many people and destroy property, and kill people far away from the facility. They're bombs that can blow up and cause major damage."

In fact, there was a deadly explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in 2005. Fifteen employees were killed and 180 were injured. But BP has not made all the changes OSHA has called for at the facility despite facing multi-million dollar fines.

"We went in after the BP explosion ... we issued the largest fine in OSHA history," Michaels said.

But that $21 million fine was not successful in getting BP to comply.

"When we returned a few years later, we found the very same hazards hadn't been abated, and we issued then the largest fine in OSHA history, $87 million. And frankly, those hazards are still there."

In fact, Michaels said that three more workers have died in accidents at the Texas City plant since the 2005 explosion.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked BP President Tony Hayward about the company's poor refinery safety record today on "Good Morning America." Hayward said those safety violations occurred in "a prior period."

When Stephanopoulos pointed out that OSHA's $87 million fine was levied just last October, Hayward said that he has been "working resolutely to improve the safety record of the company."

Asked why he thought the company was not complying with OSHA'S demand for safety improvements, Michaels said, "We don't know. On some level, it may be that $87 million fine isn't enough to focus an oil company on doing the right thing."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events