By Tom Bergin
LONDON (Reuters) - BP <BP.L> Chief Executive Bob Dudley has stepped up his battle to rebuild the troubled oil giant's reputation, declaring safety is so core to the group that it would be the sole measure for staff bonuses in the last quarter of this year.
Dudley needs to restore investor confidence in the oil group following its Gulf of Mexico oil spill and other disasters in recent years, and to fend off threats to BP's ability to operate in the United States.
Some U.S. lawmakers have argued the oil spill, a refinery blast in 2005, and Alaskan oil spills in 2006, reflect a corporate culture that encouraged managers to put profits before safety.
Dudley disputes this claim and to emphasize BP's commitment to safety he told staff in an email, seen by Reuters, that:
"The sole criterion for performance reward for our operating businesses in the fourth quarter of 2010 will be performance in safety, compliance, silent running and operational risk management."
"We are taking this step in order to be absolutely clear that safety, compliance and operational risk management is BP's number one priority, well ahead of all other priorities," he added in the email which was sent on Monday.
A BP spokesman confirmed the email's contents.
Last month, ahead of his official October 1 start date, Dudley said he was reviewing BP's system of incentives, to ensure that employees never to feel pressured or tempted to sacrifice safety for other goals.
The spokesman said this review would be concluded early next year and that the fourth-quarter bonus move was aimed at instilling a stronger safety culture in BP as soon as possible. He denied it was a publicity stunt.
Rival Royal Dutch Shell Plc <RDSa.L> has long linked staff bonuses to safety, while Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> is famous in the industry for insisting upon compliance.
Some U.S. leaders and commentators have called for BP to be barred from drilling in the country in future. With 40 percent of its assets located in the U.S., such a move could cripple the company.
Analysts said that in addition to reassuring investors that another disaster was not around the corner, Dudley's prime task was to preserve BP's U.S. position.
BP shares traded down 0.2 percent at 431.5 pence at 0753 GMT, against a 0.4 percent drop in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index <.SXEP>.
(Reporting by Tom Bergin, by Louise Heavens)