13 July 2006 12:00 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (ICIS news)--Urgent improvements in safety measures at sites storing hazardous liquids were urged on Thursday by the Health and Safety Executive in its report on last year's massive explosion at the Buncefield fuel depot in England.
Its report, which has some significant implications for operators of chemical storage facilities, also poses fundamental questions about locating such installations close to residential areas.
The Buncefield incident, which took place on 11 December, involved failures to contain fuel and associated fire-waters in tanks, pipes and vessels as well as bunds and drains, the HSE concluded in a preliminary report.
“The investigation has revealed a number of matters concerning the design and operation of sites such as Buncefield where improvements to maintaining primary containment must be considered by the industry,” the HSE said.
These matters included the electronic monitoring of tanks and pipework, and associated alarms that warn of abnormal conditions; the detection of flammable vapours in the immediate vicinity of tanks and pipework; and the response to the detection of abnormal conditions, such as automatic closure of tank inlet valves and incoming pipeline valves.
It would also take into account the extent to which the exterior construction of tanks inhibits, or contributes to, flammable vapour formation; the siting and/or means of protection of emergency response facilities; and the recording of monitoring, detection and alarm systems and their availability for periodic review of the effectiveness of the control measures.
“It has not been established whether changes in the law or in the resources available to the Competent Authority are required to achieve this end,” the HSE said. “The board is, however, clear that the severity of the Buncefield incident makes a compelling case for any such changes to be made as a matter of very high legislative priority, should the need be identified.”
The public health implications of potential vapour cloud explosions must be considered in both on-site and off-site emergency plans, it added. The public health impact of Buncefield appears to have been minimal, according to the report, but this may not necessarily have been the case under different conditions.
“The Buncefield incident poses fundamental questions about residential and commercial developments around sites like these,” said the HSE, adding that continuing uncertainty in this area would create serious problems for local communities, particularly those directly affected by the explosion.
“This is a complex issue requiring a balance to be made between the risks and benefits of development,” the HSE said..
It added that the board intended to address these issues in detail once the preliminary conclusions of HSE’s current review of its advice to planning authorities were known.
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