June 15, 2010

When Corporate America Shits the Bed

The words for the day are egregious and willful. I give you the two following examples of why I woke up pissed (as in angry, not the British for drunk though after reading all this I kinda wish I was).

BP Revisited
This from the Center for Public Integrity:

Two refineries owned by oil giant BP account for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years, a Center for Public Integrity analysis shows. Most of BP’s citations were classified as “egregious willful” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and reflect alleged violations of a rule designed to prevent catastrophic events at refineries.

BP is battling a massive oil well spill in the Gulf of Mexico after an April 20 platform blast that killed 11 workers. But the firm has been under intense OSHA scrutiny since its refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers. While continuing its probe in Texas City, OSHA launched a nationwide refinery inspection program in June 2007 in response to a series of fires, explosions and chemical releases throughout the industry.

Refinery inspection data obtained by the Center under the Freedom of Information Act for OSHA’s nationwide program and for the parallel Texas City inspection show that BP received a total of 862 citations between June 2007 and February 2010 for alleged violations at its refineries in Texas City and Toledo, Ohio.

Of those, 760 were classified as “egregious willful” and 69 were classified as “willful.” Thirty of the BP citations were deemed “serious” and three were unclassified. Virtually all of the citations were for alleged violations of OSHA’s process safety management standard, a sweeping rule governing everything from storage of flammable liquids to emergency shutdown systems. BP accounted for 829 of the 851 willful violations among all refiners cited by OSHA during the period analyzed by the Center.

Accidents happen. I get that. Sometimes I fall down for no apparent reason other than gravity exacting its cruel revenge. Sometimes I go to the fridge and get a drink of orange juice and accidentally get milk which makes me gag even though I like milk but, because I was expecting orange juice, the milk tastes like liquid evil. Like I said, accidents happen. But sometimes when you look at a particular accident, you can see a pattern. Accidents stop looking quite so accidental and instead, look willful and egregious. And that's exactly what happened with BP. Patterns of willful negligence led to the deaths of eleven people, triggered the collapse of an offshore oil platform and resulted in catastrophic side effects equal to the destruction of the Exxon Valdez happening every five days.

From Reuters:

Johnson & Johnson planned to remove potentially flawed lots of its Motrin over-the-counter pain reliever from store shelves by having contractors buy stocks of it, documents obtained by Reuters show.

One memo under the logo of McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a unit of J&J, instructed a contractor identified as Inmar: "Do not communicate to store personnel any information about this product. Simply visit each store, locate the product and, if any is found, purchase all of the product."

The Motrin recall came to light during a congressional hearing concerning J&J's widespread April recall of its Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec products for infants and children.

During a May 27 hearing, Committee chairman U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns cited a document it had received from the Food and Drug Administration and said it showed that "rather than issue a public recall, McNeil allegedly sent contractors out to stores to buy the product back and told the stores 'not to mention' a recall.

You have to be kidding. A company totally built around the health of others - including children - attempted to circumvent the recall process by buying up the entire stock of tainted drugs in an effort to avoid the bad press and financial implications? My kids took this stuff. We - Beth and I, their parents, you know, the adults charged with keeping them healthy and safe - gave it to them. My daughter's been hospitalized twice and some of this stuff was in our daily rotation of drugs to keep her out of the hospital. Fuck you, Johnson & Johnson. Fucking family company indeed. Fuck. You.

When I talked about healthcare a while back, I got some pushback from some of you. You're rightfully concerned about the government taking on the jobs of private industry. But, given what we've seen so far this year - financial institutions tanking, oil companies putting profit over safety or the environment, and drug companies choosing to look the other way at the expense of kids' lives - are you still so sure big business is the way to go?

Get this - I just came up with a new plan to stop the Gulf Coast oil leak. Let's round up all the BP executives who were egregiously willful. Then, we get all the Johnson & Johnson executives who allowed their house to get egregiously, willfully out of order. We put them on a boat - a big boat because there will be a lot of them - and take them to the Gulf then we put them on a big-ass decommissioned submarine on a collision course with the big ass oil-leaking hole and, boom, no more oil leak. Okay, I haven't gotten all the details down yet but it's a damn sight better than the plans BP's come up with.

Posted by Chris at June 15, 2010 7:35 AM

You express outrage so eloquently, and for that I admire you tremendously. I tend to rant and splutter when something (like both of these situations) pisses me off. Not very effective. Bravo!

If you find yourself looking for a fictional example of egregious willful malfeasance, may I recommend The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi? Awesome, awesome read. And yes, it is guaranteed to make you angry. :)

Posted by: Elizabeth at June 15, 2010 8:49 AM

What I cannot figure out is this: "Why was there no safety system in place to prevent something like this? Did they all really think that accidents never happen? Are they that stupid? Or just plain evil?"

Posted by: Maribeth at June 15, 2010 8:54 AM

Where do I go to vote for you to be king? That's the best most logical solution yet.

Posted by: Diane at June 15, 2010 9:52 AM

My BIL actually had a pretty good idea, I thought, regarding the BP disaster: hike the price of gas up to $10 - yes, $10 - because gas prices in the U.S. are artificially low. Then use the excess to hire the 4mil+ unemployed in this country and send them down to work on cleanup. Not volunteers - hired workers. I usually don't agree with his opinions, but this thing actually made sense to me.

Posted by: Coleen at June 15, 2010 10:12 AM

I'm sharing this with all of my Facebook friends.

Posted by: Tracy H at June 15, 2010 10:15 AM

If you need help with your plan, let me know.

As for why no safety system...oh, they have safety systems, they just broke it while testing it and decided to continue pumping anyway. Egregiously willful. Also hubris. It's why they have all those violations...they don't care because being safe doesn't make them money fast enough.

I'm not against making money. I love money. But making money on the deaths of oil rig workers, deaths of children, loss of jobs of the fishermen in the gulf...that just pisses me off.

Posted by: cyndy at June 15, 2010 10:25 AM

When you think about the Federal government taking all of this would you please look at the Minerals Management Service's hand in all this. All the kickbacks and things they missed during inspections of the oil rig. I had my students this semester write on a major issue and what caused it and most of them wrote about BP and some of the things they shared would scare the hell out of you regarding what the government missed.

No matter what you are still dealing with people and people making bad decisions.

Posted by: goodsnake at June 15, 2010 10:34 AM


You're doing it wrong.

You have to pump them all into the pipe; otherwise you won't clog the leak. Beyond that, excellent plan.

I reminded of a SunTzu story ( extremely shortened and badly summarized ):
To prove to the prince that he could command an army, the prince told SunTzu to turn his harem girls into a fighting force. SunTzu broke them into ranks, picked a few to be essentially sergeants, taught em a few moves, and said "Go". They giggled and sucked. So he explained it again to them, and again same results. Then he had the sergeants beheaded in front of the ranks. Then tried again, and they were ready for war.

Moral is: Without chopping off a few heads, the ranks won't know that you are serious. These companies aren't playing fun and games here ( when was the last major scandal with Milton Bradley or Disney where workers died? ); they are providing the backbones of our civilization here. So we should expect them to take it a bit seriously.

There should be room in the pipe for the lawyers and accountants who advised them that being willful and egregious was defend-able in court and on the fiscally smart as well.

Man, thanks for sharing this one.


Posted by: metawizard2 at June 15, 2010 10:43 AM

But, given what we've seen so far this year - financial institutions tanking, oil companies putting profit over safety or the environment, and drug companies choosing to look the other way at the expense of kids' lives - are you still so sure big business is the way to go?

My biggest concern is that the government just isn't going to be the lesser of two evils. I'm pretty sure we're doomed regardless of who is in charge.

Posted by: Katie at June 15, 2010 12:28 PM

Greed. The worst part to me about massive oil leak is that I read early on that if they just blew it up--the damage to the environment would have been minimal. The problem is that BP doesn't care about the damages, it is the money they would loose from all this oil.

Makes so sense to me, BP collects massive profits from drilling and yet they can't follow proper safety procedures and/or move mountains when they cause a monumental disaster in someone's backyard that they alone caused.

I didn't realize how long it took for Exxon to pay for the Alaska spill until this disaster. Companies have too much wiggle room in situations like this and they should be forced to pay immediately.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at June 15, 2010 4:23 PM

Basically this pisses me off enough that I have absolutely no intelligent comment, but, yeah, word. Asshats. No, too mild. Definitely fucktards.

Posted by: Heather at June 15, 2010 6:28 PM

It's a family company meaning they take care of their own ... sort of in the Godfather sense...

Don't get me started on BP.

Posted by: Nat at June 15, 2010 9:55 PM

I see alot of finger pointing to BP (quite rightly) but no Americans questioning themselves and their usage of oil. American's are notoriously greedy for oil. It concerns me that even this disaster hasn't made Americans think about where their oil comes from and at what cost. The American usage of oil is extreme, it's not normal and people should take an honest look at themselves.

I had an American friend from University and still keep in touch with her now she's living back in the US, her youngest child is starting school in August and she was so thrilled to get him enrolled in a particular school because it was just a 5 minute drive for her. That attitude really has to change because whilst American's are using oil like that then they really have no grounds to start pointing the finger elsewhere, I really can't stomach to see Americans complaining, they've caused this disaster. They enabled BP.

One moment it's complaining about the price of oil and shouting out 'Drill baby drill', and then it's complaining about the inevitable disaster, and pretty soon I predict American's complaining once again about the price of oil and wanting more oil at any cost.

Posted by: Leah at June 16, 2010 2:24 PM