CEO speeches and safety culture: British Petroleum before the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Russell Craig, J. Amernic

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    Abstract

    This paper explores the relationship between leadership language and the safety culture at British Petroleum [BP] prior to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The discursive construction of important aspects of safety culture in a large, risky, global company such as BP is a central feature of the CEO’s role. Using a social constructionist perspective, we conduct an interpretative close reading analysis of the speech of BP’s [then] CEO, Tony Hayward, at the Annual General Meeting of BP on April 15, 2010. We also analyse the transcripts of 18 other speeches Hayward delivered before the Deepwater Horizon explosion. We find that the language used contributed rhetorically to an ideology of economic efficiency and cost control, in a manner that was inconsistent with an enduring safety culture. We highlight important insights that close reading analysis of the narrative in CEO speeches can provide to help understand a corporation’s ambient safety culture.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)61-80
    JournalCritical Perspectives On Accounting
    Volume47
    Early online date27 Dec 2016
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017

    Keywords

    • Safety culture
    • BP
    • CEO speeches
    • Annual General Meeting

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