“Swiss Cheese” Analogy Argued in BP Trial Opening

BP “Swiss Cheese” analogy for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster was presented before a New Orleans court this past Monday. This model, referenced in a BP report, suggests a comparison to the dairy product, stating that disaster strikes only when “all of the holes are lined up”, that is, where hazardous activities and failures are safeguarded by multiple barriers. As long as those activities and failures are scattered throughout the process, the system as a whole can avoid an accident, much like the holes found throughout swiss cheese. It is, however, when these holes line up, that disaster strikes.

BP points to other companies which had a hand in the events surrounding the disaster. The government argued that these companies’ involvements were irrelevant, as BP supervised them every step of the way and emphasized BP’s knowledge of previous rig problems, including staff description of the facility as “the well from hell.” The US attorneys described “a corporate culture of disregard for safety.”

The energy giant has been charged with gross negligence and willful misconduct with respect to its actions surrounding the environmental disaster of 2010, which the US Department of Justic describes as a “long series of missteps and reckless decisions by BP that taken together point towards willful misconduct” (Michael Underhill, lead lawyer for the US). The trial will determine BP’s liability for civil damages and penalties resulting from the 4.1 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

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