By Alfred Donovan and John Donovan
We recently published an article focused on corrupted safety practices at Shell which resulted in the unlawful deaths of Shell workers: -
The Brent Bravo Scandal Returns to Haunt Royal Dutch Shell
(AKA Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer issues Letter of Censure to Malcolm Brinded, Executive Director of Shell EP)
After we brought matters to their attention, The Guardian newspaper published a related article on 5 March.
“Shell safety record in North Sea takes a hammering”
Confidential information leaked to us the following day, Tuesday 6 March 2007, by a Shell insider must be a cause of significant further concern if the fatality figures quoted are correct.
A reminder of what the Shell insider said…
“there were a total of 29 fatalities in Shell’s operations in 2006. There have been 9 fatalities during January and February 2007.”
“throughout Shell those fatality numbers are provoking some serious soul searching â regrettably there are always some fatalities, but these numbers are horrific. There are plenty of people who see a connection between Brinded’s and Botts style of management and the fatalities. Three years ago, Botts promised a 30% increase in production with a 30% reduction in costs by 2007. Instead, there has been a 30% increase in costs with a 30% reduction in production”
“Shell’s other accident/incident statistics (which are easily massaged/unreported) all suggest an improvement in HSE. It is rather harder to massage fatality numbers.”
This appears to be further concrete proof that the fears of Bill Campbell, the former Group Auditor of Shell International, about a ruthless Shell senior management which puts production (and profits) before the safety of Shell workers, are well founded.
We have already published our email to Shell General Counsel Keith Ruddock (also sent to Jeroen van der Veer, Malcolm Brinded etc) enquiring about this matter.
We never received the courtesy of a response.
This was a comment received from a Shell insider after we sent the email to Ruddock.
Judging from the comment about BBQ in the live chat, I would guess that your emails to Ruddock et al have caused quite a stir, and have been circulated widely around Shell.
There are probably a few “headless chickens” running around the Hague at the moment. Even when Nokia was in the logging business, I doubt whether they ever managed to achieve 38 fatalities in 14 months. So this is probably a new dimension for Ollila and under some jurisdictions he could be held to account.
In 2005, the last year for which we have confirmed Shell safety statistics, there were 36 fatalities. This important information was buried on page 68 of the Shell 2005 report. That fact gives some indication of the low priority given by management to Shell employees lives and confirms its long standing policy of hiding unpalatable facts from Shell stakeholders.Â
Systemic safety problem
Shell has not denied or confirmed the quoted fatality statistics for 2006, or the alarming revelation of 9 fatalities in the first two months of 2007.Â If accurate, these statistics must presumably relate to a series of accidents involving single fatalities since there has been no major incident. If so, that signifies a systemic safety problem rather than a lax or corrupted safety regime at one location, as was the case with Brent Bravo. The further fatal accident on 1 January 2005 at Brent Bravo of another worker, electrician Graeme Burns (who died while carrying out maintenance work) and the deaths of two workers on 31 May 2005, in a water condensate tank explosion at a Shell/NAM gas production facility near Warffum in The Netherlands, provided more evidence of a systemic safety problem.
The following are extracts from a leaked Shell internal email dated 17 July 2006, from Shell Group CEO Jeroen van der Veer containing admittances about Shell’s “safety problem”.
Lets be perfectly clear. Our safety performance has reached a plateau â and remains below best-in-class in our industry. Our statistics show it. We know it. What does this mean? Are we not trying hard enough, focusing hard enough, or havenât we accepted that we have a problem? I think it is a mixture. All these aspects are probably part and parcel of the safety problem. The solution rests on willpower, behaviour and taking action.
And the world around us sees us as not safe enough.
In the past weeks, there have been media reports focusing on our safety performance in the North Sea, especially the Brent field. Part of the background is a debate around whether we, as a company, acted in sufficient depth and breadth on recommendations made in our own 1999 review of platform safety management. We genuinely believe we did. Nonetheless, there were two tragic deaths on the Brent Bravo in September 2003.
Although a one-billion-dollar improvement programme is underway in our North Sea operations, the debate in the media is likely to continue about whether we have done enough to ensure the technical integrity, safety standards and safety behaviour in that area of operations.
Jeroen van der Veer
Group Chief Executive
As is evident from The Guardian article published on 5 March 2007, nearly nine months later, Shell does not appear to have made any progress despite Van der Veerâs confession about a safety problem. Shell management has apparently still not realised that it is deeds, not words, which count.
Extracts from the article âShell safety record in North Sea takes a hammeringâ…
As recently as November 13, Shell – one of Britain’s largest companies – was served with a rebuke and a legal notice that it was failing to operate safely.
“Shell have failed to implement a suitably resourced maintenance regime to achieve compliance with their maintenance strategy.
â…the HSE website shows Shell was issued with 10 improvement notices during 2006â
Last year, Shell was embarrassed when Bill Campbell, one of its senior safety consultants, claimed the company was operating a weak safety regime and said some employees had been falsifying documents. Shell denied the charges, but Mr Campbell has been threatening the company with a defamation case.
At the time Van der Veer sent his confessional email about lax safety standards, Shell was already engaged in secret discussions with Bill Campbell trying to keep a lid on his extremely serious allegations and warnings.
Shell had acted in a reprehensible way by removing Campbell as lead auditor of the 1999 Brent Bravo Platform Safety Management Review (PSMR) and subsequently issuing malicious defamatory statements about him â a classic example of shooting the messenger. The errant managers responsible for falsifying safety records kept their jobs. Shell threatened defamation proceedings against Campbell when he exposed what had been going on after the unlawfulÂ deaths on Brent Bravo in 2003 which resulted in a record breaking fine being imposed on Shell.Â
As a result of the preventable deaths, there have been calls to change Scottish law so that corporate manslaughter charges could be brought against directors responsible for such crimes. However, no such law was in existence, so Malcolm Brinded, CEO of Shell EP, escaped with a secret Letter of Censure from Van der Veer and no doubt a nice bonus for keeping the profits flowing even though his failure to take proper remedial action cost the lives of two innocent Shell employees.
There are a number of similarities between the cases of Bill Campbell and another famous Shell whistleblower, Dr John Huong. Both had worked for Shell for decades. Both were very fond of Shell and are men of the highest integrity who believed the pledges of honesty, integrity and openness enshrined in Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles. Both warned Shell management in writing about serious safety issues putting worker lives at risk. Neither received a satisfactory response. Both appealed directly to Brinded for his intervention. Both were ignored. Both have been shamed, humiliated and subjected to a vilification campaign for being men of high principle and moral conscience. Both were threatened with defamation proceedings. In the case of Dr Huong, eight Shell group companies subsequently issued proceedings against him. It is therefore laughable that Shell has had had the audacity to set up a Whistleblowers Helpline given these shocking examples. Who will dare blow the whistle having seen the frightening consequences visited on Bill Campbell and Dr Huong by a vengeful multinational?
Even setting aside the alleged shocking fatality figures for Jan/Feb 2007 which Shell has neither confirmed nor denied, it is evident from the 5 March Guardian newspaper article that contrary to the feigned concern displayed in the leaked Jeroen van der Veer email, Shellâs North Sea safety record is continuing to deteriorate. Note that this is 8 years after Bill Campbell’s dire warnings arising from the PSMR safety audit which he led.
It is an unfortunate irony that Shell senior employees of high integrity such as Bill Campbell and Dr John Huong were forced out and threatened by these ruthless managerial conmen who have little or no regard for the lives of Shell employees. Instead of being charged with manslaughter, as he deserved, Brinded no doubt awaits a knighthood to add to his CBE.
If the “profits before safety” “Touch Fuck All” corporate mentality isn’t a crime, it ought to be.