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The Wall Street Journal: Updated: Updated: Updated: Shell’s Safety Record is Worse than BP’s

March 20, 2007, 3:15 pm
Posted by Staff

As Energy Roundup has written, BP’s safety record in the past two years — as measured only by the deaths of employees and contractors — hasn’t been as bad as that of rival Royal Dutch Shell, which employs roughly the same number of people.

In fact, the Financial Times expanded that comparison to include several other oil majors and a greater number of years. The paper’s conclusion? “BP is far from uniquely bad among the oil and gas ’super-majors’ for its record of workforce deaths.” Their data are the source for the table.

Since 2003, the first year of the Times’s study, Shell does indeed have the worst safety record, in terms of employee and contractor deaths. The company admitted recently its safety record was “mixed” last year and says it has created a new position, global vice-president for health, safety and environment, to tackle the problem.

Exxon Mobil’s safety record is surprisingly good, given its size (it employs about 106,000 people, roughly matching that of BP and Shell), with just 10 deaths last year, compared with 37 for Shell and 7 for BP. Figures for 2006 aren’t available yet for Total or Chevron. But Chevron’s record in 2005 was the best among the five majors, with just 6 deaths. Total had 22 deaths in 2005, nearly as many as BP.

The good news is that industry deaths fell slightly, on average, between 2004 and 2005, the FT reports, citing a study by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. A reduction in the number of fatal helicopter and vehicular accidents helped.

But there’s no telling if the trend will continue, the paper says. “The industry is inherently dangerous,” writes Ed Crooks. “It involves handling explosive and inflammable materials, often at high pressures and temperatures, and often in inhospitable environments….”

– Mark Gongloff

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What is the location for the deaths for Shell?
Comment by Greg Wewbster – March 20, 2007 at 6:30 pm

Greg: 17 died in Nigeria, 9 due to militant attacks.
Comment by Staff – March 20, 2007 at 6:46 pm

While helicopter crashes and refinery explosions provide dramatic safety incidents, the fact that traffic accidents are included in these numbers, and in some years are the majority of these deaths simply points to a hazard that is common in any industry that has field employees driving company trucks and cars to the job location, especially those operating in third world countries. If other industries counted fatalities of employees driving to and from work (as these oil companies do), how would their numbers look?
Comment by Tony T – March 20, 2007 at 8:23 pm

Number of deaths is a poor metric for measuring safety, primarily because the number of deaths is very small and the numbers are very volatile from year to year.
Per-capita lost-time injuries (measured in man-days) are the meaningful metric, and the one employed in the occupational health and safety business. This is another case of a lazy blogger inventing a meaningless statistic that provides false illustration.
Comment by Bartman – March 21, 2007 at 3:15 am

In 1999 a senior Shell official, Bill Campbell, was the lead auditor of a platform safety review on the Brent Bravo North Sea platform. His audit exposed a “TFA” (Touch Fuck All) policy and falsification of maintenance records by platform management. His warnings were not just ignored by Shell senior management. He was removed from the audit. In other words, Shell management put production (and profits) before safety. Shell employees on the platform subsequently died as a result of a huge leak of gas and Shell received a record breaking fine of £900,000 pounds ($1.8 million approx) after a court decided that the deaths were unlawful. I recently received information from a Shell insider that there have been 9 deaths at Shell within January and February of 2007. I have been in correspondence with Shell EP General Counsel, Keith Ruddock, and he has not denied that these frightening fatality statistics are correct. The relevant correspondence and my article about Bill Campbell, the former Group Auditor of Shell International, who is an expert in safety matters, can be found at
In particular, please read the three documents authored by Mr Campbell who is in a position to judge Shell and its CEO, Jeroen van der Veer. What he has to say about Shell and its safety culture is astonishing and should be a matter of great concern to Shell employees. Comment by John Donovan – March 21, 2007 at 4:13 am

The shortage of experienced oilfield staff, due to recent industry expansion after years of cost cutting, has led to the recruiting of new hires on a scale not seen since the 1970’s. The lack of experience will lead to accidents, of which a small number will involve fatalities. Shell cut costs and staff to a greater extent that its peers, and is now recruiting desperately to fill the gap. Shell’s awful accident statistics reflect the age and condition of their facilities and the inexperience of their employees and contractor staff.
Comment by Jim W – March 21, 2007 at 6:08 am

the whole problem is that the government allowed all these mergers and then azllowed these companies to close down dozens of refineries to cut costs and production look at the $3.00 a gallon cost of gas
Comment by john gillette – March 21, 2007 at 9:42 am

If the Shell v.s. BP safety debate is applied to North Sea operations since 2002, Shell’s record is much worse – excluding the Sept 2003 double fatalities on Shell Brent Bravo

Offshore statistics:  Enforcement Notices

Company    2003 Deaths   2004 Deaths   2005 Deaths   2006 Deaths

Exxon Mobil        23               6                      8                   10
Royal Dutch        45               37                    36                  37
BP                     20               11                    27                    7
Total                  23               16                    22                  N/A
Chevron             12               17                     6                   N/A

The most serious enforcement Notice is the “Prohibition Notice” (prohibiting the use of systems, equipment etc immediately because the risks are so unacceptably high): Shell had 10 of these in the 41 total, whereas BP had none in its 27 total
Comment by John Donovan – March 21, 2007 at 6:33 pm and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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