Robert Dudley, BP CEO.
Robert Dudley, BP CEO. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: The new CEO at BP, Bob Dudley, hasn't actually started yet. His first official day on the job is Friday. But he's getting a jump on things. Today, he dumped a top production manager. He announced a brand new department of safety and he handpicked the person who's going to run it. It's all about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, of course, and convincing people the company's different now. That kind of makeover's no easy corporate task even when millions of barrels of oil didn't get leaked.

From North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin: BP's safety record has been a troubled one: On top of this summer's spill, there was that pipeline rupture in Alaska, and a refinery explosion in Texas. To distance itself from these incidents, BP has created a new safety unit to audit all operations.

But this priority on safety is something Gary Taylor's heard BP tout before. Taylor writes for Platt's Oilgram News.

Gary Taylor: When Tony Hayward came in as a CEO a couple of years ago -- that was in the wake of the refinery accident in Texas -- he announced that there would be a new focus on safety.

But BP says it's different this time: The new unit will have more power. If safety standards lapse, the unit doesn't have to go up the chain of command to get permission to enforce them. It's the type of bold action analysts had called for.

Matti Teittinen is an analyst with research firm IHS Herold.

Matti Teittinen: They needed to do something to show that they were shaking things up a little bit, and not just putting a new CEO in there.

But the head of BP's new unit is Mark Bly -- the company's current VP for safety. When Exxon looked to clean up its act after the Valdez spill, it brought in outsiders to do it.

Amy Myers Jaffe directs the Baker Institute Energy Forum at Rice University. She says reforming BP's culture is a tall order.

Amy Myers Jaffe: Is this something that can be done internally or is it something for which they are going to need external assistance? But definitely one has to go beyond just having an auditing structure.

Jaffe says workers will need to be rewarded for making safety a priority at the expense of time and profits.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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