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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 22:49 GMT
BP fined £1m for safety offences
The oil and chemicals giant, BP, has been fined £1m for breaching safety laws at its Grangemouth refinery in central Scotland.
The company pleaded guilty at Falkirk Sheriff Court to two charges relating to two incidents in two days at the complex on the Firth of Forth last year.
The fine is the largest of its kind imposed in Scotland, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
Employees and members of the public were put at risk on 7 June when a steam pipe at more than three times the normal pressure broke late at night.
A woman walking her dog suffered three broken ribs.
The blast created "a wall of steam" which firemen had to crawl under while checking for casualties.
As they did so, they felt the ground vibrating, the court heard.
Three days later, in a separate incident, there was a large fire after following a break in other pipework in the refinery section of the site.
Highly flammable vapour was released, leading to a major fire.
Operators were said to have been forced to "run for their lives" and the shift manager did not know whether or not the broken pipe had been in use at the time.
For BP, solicitor Niall Scott said the company was fully committed to operating safely and without damage to the environment.
'Top hazard site'
Sheriff Albert Sheehan fined BP Chemicals Limited £250,000 on the first charge.
He said: "Clearly there has been what can only be described as a gross dereliction of the duties incumbent on the accused and there was considerable potential danger to plant operators and members of the public."
The Sheriff fined BP Oil Grangemouth Refinery Limited £750,000 on the second charge.
"It seems to me that although there were no serious injuries and fortunately no deaths, this can only be regarded as a most serious fire and also had a more serious potential bearing in mind that this site is one of the top hazard sites in the UK," he warned.
"It could lead to the domino effect where one accident can lead to another."
Last year, the company announced plans to shed up to 1,000 jobs at Grangemouth after a 10-week cost-cutting review at the refinery and petrochemical complex.
Some 2,500 people are currently employed at the site.
The company said this restructuring was "fully consistent" with recommendations made by a taskforce which carried out a major safety review following a series of incidents in 2000.
The company is investing more than £80m a year to improve safety and reliability at the plant.
After the case, Ken Richardson, BP Grangemouth public affairs manager, said: "We have openly and publicly acknowledged that areas of operations at Grangemouth fell short of the BP Group's high expectations for the management of safety and environmental performance.
"Following the incidents in the summer of 2000 we established a high level taskforce of experts drawn from throughout the group to carry out a root and branch review of all operations at Grangemouth."
Mr Richardson said the company was committed to spending £160m over two years on improving its infrastructure.
Alistair McNab, of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that only good fortune had avoided fatalities or any serious injuries.
"If we detect any deterioration or slippage we have the necessary legal powers and we will not hesitate to use them again."
Local MP, Michael Connarty, said that he was happy the company had admitted its errors.
But the MP warned the company to ensure proposed job cuts do not result in another accident in the future.
"I'm pleased that they put their hands up and admitted it," he said.
"They made a number of major errors and it caused damage, thought thankfully no loss of life.
"It is a massive fine for a non-fatal accident.
"The point is that £1m is now marked down on the debit side of their accounts against the management at Grangemouth who took their eye off the ball, didn't look after the infrastructure, took risks with the workforce's health by downsizing it, and hopefully this is now going to make them think again."
"I hope that BP management look at this, look at their plans to take so many people out of the plant and think again," Mr Connarty went on.
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