In recent years BP has been landed with record fines for major accidents, injuries and deaths at oil refineries in Grangemouth in Scotland and Texas in the US. Despite this, the company has been highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for its inspiring “leadership” on safety at work.

This has caused anger amongst occupational health experts, with one Scottish safety professional describing the HSE as a “lap-dog” of big business.

Last week, however, the HSE withdrew an online case study praising BP’s approach to health and safety just days after complaints accusing BP of being a repeated “safety offender” and a “disgrace”. BP, however, claimed the case study had simply been removed because it was “old”.

In 2002 BP was the first company in Britain to be fined £1 million for safety violations that caused three accidents and a fire at the Grangemouth refinery. “Only good fortune prevented workplace and public casualties,” said the HSE at the time.

Then in March 2005, a BP American refinery in Texas City exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 170. Last month the US government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) imposed a record fine of £53m on BP for allowing 270 potential hazards to persist at the Texas refinery.

“We can’t let this happen again,” said the US Labour Secretary, Hilda Solis. “Workplace safety is more than a slogan. It’s the law.”

Since the explosion in 2005, four other BP employees and contractors have died in accidents at the refinery.

The company has lodged an appeal against OSHA’s record fine, disputing the alleged violations and penalties.

Despite BP’s record, the HSE has long used the company as an example to promote good practice to others. On its website, BP’s vice-president for health and safety, Greg Coleman, was profiled and approvingly quoted as “passionate about improving health and safety within BP and making it exemplary worldwide”.

Incensed, Rory O’Neill, professor of occupational and environmental health at Stirling University, wrote to the HSE chief executive, Geoffrey Podger, earlier this month demanding that the BP case study be removed. It has since disappeared from the HSE’s “successful leadership” web pages.

The HSE’s praise for BP was “an insult to the dead and bereaved of Texas City” O’Neill told the Sunday Herald. “It shows the UK does not have a health and safety watchdog to advocate for and protect workers,” he argued.

Instead, he claimed, Britain has “a lapdog with neither the resources nor the will to tackle dangers in the workplace, and whose top management feels more comfortable protecting directors than the workers it is supposed to serve.”

O’Neill, who also edits the online magazine Hazards, accused HSE’s “craven leadership” of encouraging a culture of corporate complacency. “Until HSE marches into the BP boardroom and demands the firm pays as much regard to the price of a life as it does to the price of oil, the organisation charged with policing the UK’s criminal safety law is parading its institutional impotence to businesses everywhere,” he alleged.

The HSE accepted that it had reviewed its leadership case studies. “We have decided that the cases are now a little old and have served their purpose, therefore we have taken the decision to remove the list from the website,” said an HSE spokesperson.