The Baker report into the death of 15 workers as a result of the explosion at BP’s Texas Oil Refinery in March 2005 reinforces the need for new legal duties for company directors, according to leading health and safety lawyers Thompsons.

Former US secretary of state James Baker, who was commissioned by the oil giant to produce an independent review of safety at the plant, condemned the British firm’s catalogue of safety failures.

In addition to those killed, 170 people were  injured in the blast. The Baker report, published earlier this month, found that BP’s management was "blinded" by personal accident statistics that showed a low level of accidents, and failed to ensure that resources were committed to safety processes.

The report said that BP had not learned from a fire six years ago at its Grangemouth plant in Scotland and had not adequately established safety as a core value across its US refineries. There was no consistent message about the importance of safety and no firm conviction that accidents were unacceptable.

Leading Health and Safety Lawyers

Mick Antoniw, a partner at Thompsons, said that the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, currently before Parliament, would apply to tragedies such as the Texas disaster if they occurred in the UK.

"The Enron case illustrates that if a senior executive is guilty of fraud then he faces a long term imprisonment. But if their conduct leads to death then there is nothing more than a company fine".

"The Corporate Manslaughter Bill will allow companies to be charged with corporate manslaughter where the deaths occur as a result of senior management failure. It is aimed at exactly this type of situation where directors of companies have clearly failed to establish a culture of safety or have attempted to cut corners on safety in order to increase profits or production."

The Government is considering introducing Corporate Probation into the Bill to enable the courts to effectively place companies under supervision and to set out a programme of reforms to prevent future accidents occurring.

The BP report also highlights the need for legal responsibilities for safety to be imposed on company directors either by amendments to existing health and safety legislation or by a new Directors Duties Bill.