INSIGHT: Seveso II - helping to avoid the worst

03 March 2008 16:57  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

The Grande Paroisse, Toulouse blast aftermathLONDON (ICIS news)--Every three years the European Commission reviews the legislation in place in the EU member states to control major accident hazards (MAH).

This year it is also looking at the qualitative aspects of the MAH rules to see how operators in the 27 EU member states are coping with them.

The issues that are coming to the fore - and raising concerns within the chemical industry, the sector most affected by MAH legislation - have to do with the potential to widen the scope of the accident hazard legislation and the ways in which it is implemented at the national level.

There are growing concerns too that rule changes may be introduced that do little or nothing to enhance plant or operating company safety.

The MAH legislation, the so-called Seveso II directive, has been developed over the past 25 years and is named after the accident at the chemical plant in Seveso, Italy that released kilogramme quantities of tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin (TCDD), a substance known to be lethal even in microgramme amounts.

Stemming from investigations into that release - following a run-away exothermic reaction - was the first Seveso directive in 1982. It was updated in 1987 and 1988 after the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984 and the Sandoz warehouse fire in Basel in 1985).

Seveso II was adopted in 1996 and came into force across the EU member states in 1999.

It was extended in 2003 following the explosion at the Grande Paroisse plant in Toulouse, France plant in 2001,a fireworks explosion in Enschede, the Netherlands, and a tailings pond disaster at Baia Mare in Romania.

Further lessons have been learned from the gas pipeline accident at Ghislenghien, in Belgium in 2004, and the oil storage depot blaze at Buncefield in the UK in 2005.

Despite the modification, however, Seveso II has survived largely unchanged for more than a decade. And a revision has been thought necessary as the EU moves closer to adopting the UN’s globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS).

The current directive - enacted at member state level - is delivering more information on major accident hazards and greater public authority scrutiny of potentially dangerous sites.

Seveso II obligations on operating companies to draw up safety reports and internal emergency plans have generally been satisfactorily met, the EC said earlier last month.

Implementation, overall, has improved, it added. But the main shortcomings – in the 2003-2005 period reported on in 2007 – were delivery of external emergency plans and information to the general public .

The chemical industry can add more to this list including the poor information flow between competent authorities in the member states and the EC.

There are also felt to be problems linked to the fact that there are few common systems across Europe and the directive is enacted in member states in different ways.

The current consultation period on Seveso II involves interviews and an on-line questionnaire available until 21 March.

The timeline aims for a report on the study, being conducted by a third-party consultancy, the European Virtual Institute for Integrated Risk Management, by 3 July.

This period of review is vitally important for the sector that seems ever more burdened by legislation but is required to operate its plants and storage facilities in a safe and proper manner.

Industry atention has been focused for so long on Reach, the EU’s chemicals registration and health and safety legislation, that Seveso has at times seemed to fall by the wayside. But that has hardly been the case.

As every chemical plant operator knows, safety is paramount. And for not just the major players. The understanding of major accident hazards and how they might be allayed requires constant attention.

Safety is manageable, but not simply so. Companies and organisations need to foster a safety culture and understand how they may best continue to do so if they are to help avoid the worst.

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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