How oil companies avoid getting into hot water – it’s a pity BP didn’t apply OSH rules to its Mexican Gulf activities

You would think BP was keen to burnish its public image, especially now that its oil is about to devastate the beaches, wetlands and what-have-you around the Gulf of Mexico.

But nah. The buggers have developed a thing about water and won’t check it for their customers.

As the Herald reports today, staff at a BP station up north refused to check the water level of a woman’s car in case they were burned.

Poor little diddums.

It’s got something to do with risk aversion, which has a profoundly hollow ring to it, when you see what’s going on in the Mexican Gulf.

BP is not alone, fair to say. Other oil companies similarly are giving up on the provision of “service”.

They are blaming OSH health and safety requirements and banning staff from performing rudimentary tasks, such as checking customers cars’ water levels.

Howick man Calvyn Jonker contacted the Herald after being “appalled” by the attitude of staff at one BP station, who refused to check the water level of a woman’s car in case they were burned.

Mr Jonker was in the queue at the BP Connect station in Ridgeway St, when he heard the appeal for help.

“He [the employee] just replied, ‘We don’t do water’.

“She repeated her request in disbelief, only to be given the same answer.”

This Jonker feller helped the woman, then remonstrated with the staff member, who informed him of the no-help policy.

“So, what we have is a garage that only sells fuel, and does not offer any other mechanical help – however minor,” Mr Jonker said.

Yep. That pretty well sums it up.

The Herald checked with the manager of the offending service station who confirmed staff were banned from performing such tasks under OSH regulations.

Motorists are expected to check their own vehicles.

This was confirmed by BP.

BP spokeswoman Diana Stretch yesterday confirmed checking water levels was a no-go zone for service station staff – along with checking tyre pressures and oil levels.

“OSH regulations state that we are required to do an assessment of hazards and take steps to mitigate those hazards.

“In those assessments BP has identified that checking of water in radiators, changing tyres and filling tyres with air are all potential hazards to our staff.”

In the event of a customer turning up with a flat tyre or “mechanical issue”, staff would be happy to “assist the customer to contact their breakdown company, a tow truck or make other arrangements”, she said.

You get a bit more service – but not much – from Greenstone Energy.

Greenstone Energy (formerly Shell) spokesman Jonathan Hill said service station employees were free to help with a tyre, or check oil levels, but were urged to “err on the side of caution” when it came to radiator caps.

“Taking a cap off a hot engine can be particularly dangerous, something that should be undertaken by a mechanic.” Employees could attempt to remove a water cap if they were sure it was safe, otherwise, they were to consider “safety before anything else”.

So whatever happened to staff training?

AA spokesman Mike Noon makes some sense of what is going on by pointing out that, in the past, most service stations had a garage attached, with a mechanic who was able to help with minor mechanical problems.

Nowadays, customers wanted service stations to be able to provide groceries, remain open 24-hours and keep fuel prices low. All that came at a price, usually in the form of reduced service, Mr Noon said.

But this does not explain the nonsense of the oil companies invoking OSH rules to explain their bans on service.

What next? Little old ladies being told to climb up lamp-posts during heavy storms to restore their own electricity supplies?

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