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Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board publishes recommendations on emergency preparedness, response and recovery

Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board publishes recommendations on emergency preparedness, response and recovery

GOVERNMENT NEWS NETWORK News Release issued by The Government News Network on 17 July 2007

Issued by GNN on behalf of the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board

Today, the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board is publishing its 6th report, covering emergency preparedness for, response to and recovery from a major industrial incident.

Lord Newton, Chairman of the Board said:
"Our report calls on all those involved in dealing with major incidents to work together so that the emergency preparedness, response and recovery arrangements are made more effective. However much improvement is made in preventive measures, there can be no guarantee that a major incident will not occur."

"These wide ranging recommendations are directed throughout the UK. They apply to operators, local authorities, primary responders, central and regional government, devolved administrations, and regulators. The measures we call for include better mutual aid and other collective arrangements across Britain to assure all aspects of potential emergencies are adequately catered for, including public health aspects."

The report's starting point is for operators to reassess the major hazard potential of their sites. Prior to Buncefield, violent explosions and fires engulfing many tanks were not judged as being credible events. Subsequent recommendations call for adequate preparations to contain a developing incident on the site and prevent it becoming a major incident.

The greater part of the report deals with a major incident affecting the local area. It recommends a consistent approach in government for specified ministers to have responsibility for firstly the emergency phase, and secondly the recovery phase. It calls for special status (and central funding) for areas affected by a major incident and suggests this should begin without delay in the Buncefield area.

Lord Newton concluded:

"The Buncefield incident had a huge impact on the lives of local residents and businesses, and we would like to acknowledge the great resilience of the local community and business in the ongoing recovery effort to bring about a return to social normality. We also applaud the efforts of many organisations in the impressive emergency response to Buncefield. This relied on initiative and good working relationships of the responders, dealing with an incident that had been unforeseen and therefore not planned for."

Notes to Editors

1. The Board said in its Initial Report, July 13 2006, that emergency preparedness and response was one of 4 main areas of concern in its investigation. The issue of managing the recovery of devastated communities back to social normality has become increasingly important over the lifetime of the Board.

2. The paramount need remains for precautions to prevent fuel escaping from the vessels in which it is contained (Report 5 addresses this specifically). The second top priority, addressed in this report, is to ensure that the emergency preparedness and response arrangements are effective, because however much improvement is made in preventive measures there can be no guarantee that a major hazard incident will not occur.
3. Overall the Board is emphasising:

* The need for review/ changes in thinking towards major incident risk management at COMAH sites by site regulators and operators;
* The importance of emergency preparedness and response around COMAH sites, involving central and devolved government, all responders and the surrounding local community; and
* The importance for clear ministerial/ lead and central financial support in dealing with a major incident, with appropriate provisions considered during both the incident and recovery phases.

4. The Buncefield Investigation Board was appointed by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to supervise the investigation into the explosions and fire at the Buncefield oil storage and transfer depot, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, on 11 December 2005. The HSC directed the investigation using its powers under section 14(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to be carried out jointly by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA). The Investigation Board is independent of HSE and EA, while including representatives of HSE and EA as well as independent experts. The Board is chaired by Lord Newton of Braintree.

5. The Competent Authority manage and enforce the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) and comprise of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency in England and Wales (EA), and the HSE and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland.

6. The Board's 5th term of reference is to make recommendations for future action to ensure the effective management and regulation of major accident risk at COMAH sites. This should include consideration of off-site as well as on-site risks and consider prevention of incidents, preparations for response to incidents, and mitigation of their effects. In its initial report published in July 2006, the board set out three main areas of concern to be addressed under this TOR. On emergency preparedness and response the Board has met with the Cabinet Office, the Depatment of Communities and Local Government, to now issue this report.

7. The Buncefield Standard Task Group is the joint Competent Authority/ industry standards working group set up to review safety and environmental protection standards at fuel storage sites following the Buncefield incident.

8. The primary investigation into whether any criminal offences is continuing and is obliged to consider all reasonable lines of enquiry. Once that investigation is complete it is for the Environment Agency and the HSE to independently decide if there is sufficient evidence upon which to base a prosecution for breaches of environmental and health safety law respectively. In the meantime the MIIB must be careful not to undermine the fairness of any potential criminal proceedings and thereby jeopardise the possibility of a prosecution should that prove appropriate.

To access the report on Emergency Preparedness and Response at 00.01 please go to http://www.gnn.gov.uk