Letter to Sir John Browne Regarding Unsafe Operations
Attachment Description: This letter was signed by 77 British Petroleum Exploration (BPX) employees [during one of two weekly alternating shifts totaling approximately 210 persons]
No confirmation was ever received that Sir John ever personally read the letter.
January 14, 1999
To: Sir John Browne
From concerned Prudhoe Bay Operators and Maintenance Personnel
We are writing this correspondence because we consider impending staffing cuts to represent a safety imperative. We should point out, we are not likely to lose our jobs as a result of these cuts, only our lives and means of livelihood (oil production, which, incidentally, is yours as well). We say this to negate self-serving impressions, because we always feel management looks at everything we tell them as "we want what's best for us, not the company." if that were true, why would competent management entrust the likes of us with their primary capital investment, hands-on?
The purpose of writing you directly is twofold. First, we feel relatively certain that anything we say either stays at this level or gets filtered on the way up to a version of "can do, sir." This "tell him what he wants to hear" mentality is akin to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson asking his advisors and generals how things are going with the war in Vietnam. Second, we want to remove deniability. You and others in management cannot say, "we didn't know things were that bad. No one told us." We are telling you and others the truth.
In light of the fact that we have had two fatalities and a well-pad burn to the ground within the last few months, it should be fairly obvious to even the casual observer that something is not being done right. While there are many contributing factors, the two main ingredients which are ignored in your reports are attitude and staffing reductions (too few being asked to do too much to do it safely). The first situation is directly proportional to the second, for if the company management demonstrates total disregard for safety, why should I? You are no doubt familiar with "leadership by example."
When we have safety reviews and HAZOPs to discuss and document potential safety hazards as required by law, our input is never mentioned in the reports. We have for some time disagreed that personnel cuts are safe on the already-too-thin front line. However, our feedback is ignored because it doesn't support the pre-ordained agenda. After all, we are only the ones actually doing the work, what could we possibly know? These "whitewashed" versions are then taken as gospel, seemingly indicating that we agreed with the conclusions. Then, a little while down the road, when new lower manpower levels are desired, even these management-rigged minimums have to be found excessive. Therefore, we will have another bogus safety review whereby we are simultaneously included and excluded from the process. Lower levels of coverage, and hence, equipment monitoring and maintenance will ensue.
We hereby pose the question to you: "When will the body count, capital destruction and loss of production be enough to halt this dead-end course?" We know it will stop at the point where you are out of business, but we assume the target is somewhere short of that. Where then? Your front-line management and supervision will continue to cut as long as you direct and sanction it, right up to the precipice of disaster and over. There will be a short near-term savings realized at the cost of a huge near-future loss. The old saying goes, "penny wise, pound foolish."
Think of this letter as opportunity. Think how much grief Lyndon Johnson and other leaders throughout history could have avoided had they heard from the front-line troops rather than only the "can do" generals. We are doing all we can. We are talking. Are you listening?