By Courtney Hamilton
Wikipedia defines public relations (or PR) as "the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest." It's not just about talking the talk, it's about walking the walk.
Clearly, BP is currently failing on the PR front.
Companies involved in the fossil fuels industry already have difficulties predicting the long term consequences of their actions (air pollution, global warming etc etc)... They work in the dirty fuels business... part of their very survival involves having a sort of loose relationship with reality.
And while it appears that there is little more damage BP could do given the company's responsibility for the worst oil disaster in American history, BP's continued attempts to re-write reality while the whole world is watching highlights that the company not only had an unrealistic impression of their godlike ability to draw oil from 18,000 ft below the seabed without any risk of oil spill (and therefore no need for investing in pesky oil spill clean-up technologies, or plans) but also continues to fail to understand that unless an action serves the public, it does not serve the organization, no matter how you spin it.
There have been many PR failures since this disaster started, but the one that really gets under my skin is BP's blatant disregard for worker health.
BP spokesman Darren Beaudo claims that "folks working those [oil clean-up] crews are not expected or trained to work in circumstances that would require respirators. If they were in that sort of situation they would be removed immediately," but if that was the case, then why have workers been hospitalized?
I'm no scientist, but I imagine that standing over a giant oil slick in 80 degree weather is probably going to expose you to some nasty fumes. While we might not know yet if it's essential for workers to wear respirators, we definitely don't know that it's safe for them to be out on the water without them. (See National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report citing an estimate that about 40 percent of crude oil evaporates after it is spilled).
According to NRDC environmental justice attorney Al Huang, the hospitalizations clearly indicate that "the health impacts from working long hours in oil-contaminated areas were so bad they needed emergency treatment... [and] there are probably many more workers out there who have experienced symptoms, but not sought treatment."
Yet one month into this disaster, rather than respond to the real problems on the ground and prevent further injury to the people of beleaguered Gulf Coast communities, BP continues to pretend that-- just like an oil spill of this magnitude could never happen-- there also could not possibly be a worker health concern (see Beaudo quote above).
BP has missed every opportunity to prevent this mess, cutting corners on blow out preventer tests, weaseling itself out of environmental impact statements, and even rushing through the sealing of the well-- and we've all witnessed the consequences.
Sure- tests, monitoring, health clinics, hazmat training, proper protective gear and respirators cost money-- but frankly we know where cutting corners gets us.
It's time for BP to pursue the precautionary principle: to over-prepare the people on the water for the challenges they will face.
It's good for the people, and it's good PR.
More on the health effects of oil spills past here: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/gsolomon/oil_spills_and_human_health_le.html
Recent BP headlines:
Original post on NRDC Switchboard