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COMAH - Major Accidents Notified to the European Commission

England, Wales and Scotland 2005 - 2006. Report of the Competent Authority

Contents

© CROWN COPYRIGHT. This publication may be freely reproduced, except for advertising, endorsement or commercial purposes. Please acknowledge the source as HSE.

January 2010

Synopsis

The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999 as amended are implemented by a Competent Authority (CA) comprising the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) working jointly with the Environment Agency (EA) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

This report covers the period April 2005 to March 2006 and provides details of 4 COMAH major accidents which occurred during that period in England, Wales and Scotland notified to the European Commission (EC). The report describes the causes of the accidents, their consequences and the enforcement action taken by the CA. In publishing it, the CA is aiming to show how the COMAH regime is working in an open and transparent way. The report will also enable lessons to be learned so that accidents can be prevented in the future.

This is the seventh report to be published in the series following reports covering 1999/2000 onwards.

Executive summary

The COMAH Regulations 1999 apply to approximately 1200 establishments that have the potential to cause major accidents because they use, or store, significant quantities of dangerous substances, such as oil products, natural gas, chemicals and explosives. The general duty of the regulations is that 'Every operator shall take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment'. The regulations are unusual in that they are implemented by a joint Competent Authority as described above. This arrangement reflects the requirements to ensure the protection of both persons and the environment.

The CA is required to notify certain major accidents to the EC. The criteria include;

Appendix A.

This report describes the 4 EC Reportable Accidents (ECRA) that occurred during the period 2005/06, their consequences and enforcement action taken by the CA. A summary is provided in tabular form at

The key points to note of the accidents are:

The principal conclusions are:

Introduction

In April 1999 the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations came into force in England, Wales and Scotland, replacing the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards (CIMAH) Regulations that had been in place since 1984. The COMAH Regulations were amended in 2005.  The amendments did not affect the duty on the CA to report certain accidents to the EC.

The COMAH Regulations require the CA to notify the EC of certain major accidents, as did the CIMAH Regulations before them. There have typically been an average of four such accidents in the UK each year. The EC uses the data to inform its decisions on future changes to legislation regarding major accident hazards. The data is also made publicly available, including on the internet, so that it can be used to learn lessons from the past and help to prevent accidents in the future.

This report provides details of the four COMAH major accidents notified to the EC which occurred between April 2005 and March 2006. It is the seventh report to be published in the series following the reports covering 1999/2000 onwards.

Regulatory background

The first European Council Directive concerned with controlling major accident hazards involving dangerous substances was adopted in 1982. Known as the 'Seveso' directive, (82/501/EEC), it was incorporated into UK law by means of the CIMAH Regulations. In 1996, the 'Seveso II' directive (96/82/EC) superseded the earlier Directive. The principal changes were a broadening of scope to include a wider range of dangerous substances and enhanced requirements to protect the environment. Most of the requirements of 'Seveso II' were implemented by the COMAH Regulations 1999, subsequently amended in June 2005 to implement changes to the Seveso II Directive.

The general duty of the COMAH Regulations is that 'every operator shall take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment'. The Regulations apply to over 1200 establishments in England, Wales and Scotland. Approximately 750 are 'lower tier' sites, where operators must prepare a Major Accident Prevention Policy. The remaining 450 sites with larger inventories of dangerous substances are classified as 'top tier' and are subject to additional requirements. These include submitting a safety report to the CA to demonstrate how they are preventing or limiting the consequences of a major accident, and providing information to local authorities to enable off-site emergency plans to be developed.

EC notification procedure

COMAH Regulation 21 requires the CA to notify the EC of any major accident which meets certain criteria. The criteria and the information to be provided are given in Schedule 7 of the regulations. Part 1 of Schedule 7 is reproduced as Appendix B of this report.

The notifications are sent to the Major Accident Hazards Bureau of the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), based at Ispra in Italy. The Bureau gives support to Environment Directorate General (DG ENV) of the European Commission. The system for reporting accidents to the EC has  now changed, but during the period covered by this report there were two forms provided for the purpose; the short report form was for immediate notification of an accident and provided basic information; the full report form was sent later when the investigation had been completed and the cause(s) of the accident had been established.

The data is recorded on the Major Accident Reporting System (MARS). The names and addresses of the operators are removed before the data is made available to the public on the eMARS website. Data searches and analyses can also be carried out on-line. For further information contact Dr. Lorenzo Van Wijk, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, TP 670, I-21020 Ispra (Va), Italy. Email: lorenzo.van-wijk@jrc.ec.europa.eu or by fax: +39 0332 78 9007.

EC reportable accidents 2005-2006

Four major accidents were reported to the EC because they satisfied one or more of the criteria given in paragraph 1 of Schedule 7 of the COMAH Regulations (see Appendix B).

Details of each accident are provided below, providing information on the causes, consequences, the emergency response and the action taken by the CA.

5.1 PETROPLUS TANK STORAGE LTD, Milford Haven

Incident Date - July 2005

This is a COMAH Top Tier site which involves a tank farm used for the import, storage and export of bulk crude oil and hydrocarbon products. Over a period of several weeks in July 2005, about 653 tonnes of kerosene leaked from a small hole in the base of a storage tank. The resultant pollution led to the destruction of the habitat of the nearby Hazelbeach stream and the closure of the beach during August 2005.

Investigations concluded that a repair made to the base of the tank after a similar incident in 2001 was not carried out according to the required standard, with the result that corrosion had led to a small hole developing in the base of the tank.

Petroplus were subsequently prosecuted by the Environment Agency Wales in August 2006. The company pleaded guilty to three charges of failing to control their inventory of kerosene in accordance with their permit and the destruction of the habitat of the Hazelbeach stream. They were fined £29,900 and ordered to pay costs of £39,801. In addition, the company has estimated that the clean-up operation cost them around £3 million.

This was an ECRA as it resulted in the significant long term damage to 1 hectare or more of an aquifier or underground water.

5.2 CHEMSON LTD, Wallsend, Tyne & Wear

Incident Date - 15/16 November 2005

This is a COMAH Top Tier site involved in the manufacture of lead compounds. On 15/16 November 2005, there was a fire in a warehouse containing finished dry goods, including organo-lead compounds, stored in bags on moveable racking.

The precise cause of the fire was not identified but it is believed that some combustible material found a source of ignition on unprotected electrical equipment.

During the fire fighting effort, concerns were raised that fire water containment might be inadequate. As fire water run-off could have caused organo-lead pollution of the nearby River Tyne, an initial decision was taken to let the fire burn. However, it was subsequently decided that some fire fighting would be possible without breaching fire water containment, aided by running on-site effluent treatment. By this stage it was too late to save the warehouse, and the entire building and its contents were destroyed.

Although there was some contamination of the site and nearby land with asbestos from the building structure, no ecological damage was found and there were no injuries to people. Had the warehouse contained fire detection, early notification of the incident might have limited the extent of the damage. This incident emphasises the importance of ensuring that there is adequate fire water containment for the worst case scenario.

This was an ECRA as it was a fire involving a dangerous substance involving a quantity of at least 5% of the qualifying quantity laid down in column 3 of Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 of the COMAH regulations.

5.3 HERTFORDSHIRE OIL STORAGE LTD, Buncefield Oil Storage Depot, Hemel Hempstead

Incident Date - 11 December 2005

This is a COMAH Top Tier site involved in the storage of fuels. In the early hours of Sunday 11 December 2005, a series of explosions occurred at the oil storage depot, at least one of which was of massive proportions, followed by a large fire which engulfed a high proportion of the site.

The fire burned for several days, destroying most of the site and emitting large clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere. Over 40 people were injured, but fortunately there were no fatalities. Significant damage occurred to both commercial and residential properties in the vicinity, and a large area around the site was evacuated on the advice of the emergency service. Surface waters and groundwaters were polluted by fire-water run-off.

The CA conducted a detailed, thorough and wide-ranging investigation, which took many months to complete. The investigation team collected forensic and other evidence, conducted interviews, and revisited the provisions of the operator's safety report, with the aim of establishing the causes of the incident. The cause of the incident was due to the overfilling of a storage tank containing unleaded petrol, which overflowed leading to the formation of a vapour cloud which subsequently ignited.

Due to the scale and importance of this investigation, a separate Buncefield Major Investigation website was set up, and full details of the investigation can be obtained by accessing the homepage.

A number of progress reports and an initial report into the investigation were published, along with several reports on specific issues which the investigation identified as requiring further action. These reports include recommendations on:

The Major Incident Investigation Board has now published its final report.  Criminal proceedings have been commenced against five companies as a result of the findings of the investigation.

This was an ECRA as

5.4 INVISTA TEXTILES (UK) LTD, Wilton, Redcar, Cleveland

Incident Date - 19 February 2006

This is a COMAH Top Tier site involved in the manufacture of nylon.

On the morning of 19 February 2006 approximately 15 tonnes of cyclohexane was lost from a processing vessel. Although the release did not ignite and there were no off-site effects or long term environmental damage, the accident was reportable to the EC due to the quantity of dangerous substance released.

The immediate cause of the accident was the failure of an agitator in the processing vessel; this resulted in the failure of a 16-inch nozzle flange which allowed hot pressurised vapours to escape. Following the incident a Prohibition Notice was served under regulation 18 of the COMAH Regulations. The plant was restarted on 18/19 March 2006, after the Notice had been complied with.

This was an ECRA as it involved the accidental discharge of a dangerous substance involving at least 5% of the qualifying quantity laid down in column 3 of Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 of the COMAH Regulations.

Conclusions

There were four ECRAs in 2005/06.

The CA will continue to use the COMAH Regulations as the vehicle for improving corporate governance of major hazard sites. However, the incident at Buncefield has led to a major review of how the CA enforces the COMAH Regulations and changes to the way in which the CA currently operates are anticipated.

Feedback

This is the seventh annual report that has been published, giving details of EC reportable accidents in England, Wales and Scotland. The CA believes it will provide an insight into the safety performance of industry and its own performance as a regulator. It will also enable lessons to be learned from past accidents, thus helping to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future.

The CA would welcome feedback on any aspect of this report. Any comments or requests for further information should be addressed to the following contacts:

Paul Jones, Health and Safety Executive, Hazardous Installations Directorate, Chemical Industry Major Hazards Team, 5S.2 Redgrave Court, Merton Road, Bootle, Merseyside L20 7HS (email: paul.jones@hse.gov.uk) or;

Richard Clarke, Environment Agency, Policy Manager, Bowbridge Close, Templeborough, Rotherham, S60 1BY (email: richard.clarke@environment-agency.gov.uk) or;

Wendy Thornton, Policy Advisor, Scottish Environment Protection Agency Edinburgh Office, Clearwater House, Heriot-Watt Research Park, Avenue North, Riccarton, Edinburgh EH14 4AP (email: wendy.thornton@sepa.org.uk).

References

The Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999, S.I. 1999 No.743,

ISBN 0 11 082192 0, The Stationery Office £5.80.

The Control of Major Accident Hazards (Amendment) Regulations 2005, S.I. 2005 No.1088,

ISBN 0 11 081379 0 , The Stationery Office £3.00.

The Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984, SI 1984 No. 1902, ISBN 0 11 047902 5, The Stationary Office.

Appendix A - Summary of EC reportable accidents 2005-2006

Operator, Location & Date Accident Description & Dangerous Substances Accident Consequences & ECRA Notification Criteria Causes and Actions Taken
Petroplus Tank Storage Ltd, Milford Haven
July 2005
Leak of 653 tonnes of kerosene from storage tank Pollution of Hazelbeach stream, destruction of habitat and closure of beach.

This was an ECRA as it resulted in the significant long term damage to 1 hectare or more of an aquifier or underground water.
The leak resulted from the corrosion of a storage tank.

Petroplus were subsequently prosecuted by the Environment Agency Wales. They pleaded guilty to three charges and were fined £29,900 and ordered to pay costs of £39,801. In addition, the company estimated that the clean-up operation cost them around £3 million.

New storage tank bases will be constructed with an impermeable membrane and measures introduced to ensure that leaks are identified quickly.

Independent checks on corrected tank volumes are reviewed on a weekly basis.

Third party contractors now carry out tank inspections to API 653 and EEMUA 159.Additional training for tank inspection and assessment has been provided as well as reviewing all tank bases on site.
Chemson Ltd, Wallsend, Tyne & Wear
15/16 November 2005
A fire destroyed a warehouse containing finished dry goods, including organo-lead compounds. The warehouse and contents were destroyed. There were no injuries or damage to the environment.

This was an ECRA as it resulted in the loss of more than 5% of the qualifying quantity of dangerous substances.
The cause of the fire is uncertain but it is believed that some combustible material found a source of ignition on unprotected electrical equipment. Changes made to the emergency plan to ensure supply and provision of fire water.
Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
11 December 2008
Explosions followed by a fire of massive proportions involving a number of petrol storage tanks, which engulfed a high proportion of the site. Over 40 people were injured but there were no fatalities. Significant damage occurred to both commercial and residential properties in the vicinity and a large area around the site was evacuated on emergency service advice. The fire burned for several days, destroying most of the site and emitting large clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere.

This was an ECRA as
  • it was a fire involving a dangerous substance involving a quantity of at least 5% of the qualifying quantity laid down in column 3 of Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 of the COMAH regulations,
  • dwellings outside the establishment were damaged and unusable as a result of the accident
  • the number of people evacuated and the time involved was greater than the prescribed value (person x hours > 500).
  • there was significant or long term damage to 1 hectare or more of an aquifier or underground water.
The explosion was due to the ignition of a vapour cloud created by the overflow of unleaded petrol from a storage tank which had been overfilled.

A wide ranging investigation has produced a series of reports into the causes of the incident and related issues such as the design and operation of fuel storage sites and changes to land use planning arrangements such sites
Invista Textiles (UK) Ltd, Wilton, Redcar, Cleveland19 February 2006 Release of 15 tonnes of cyclohexane The release did not ignite and there were no off-site effects or long term environmental damage associated with the release. This was an ECRA as it involved the accidental discharge of more than 5% of the qualifying quantity of a dangerous substance. The immediate causes of the accident were identified as failure of an agitator in the vessel, which resulted in failure of a 16-inch nozzle flange, which allowed hot pressurised vapours to escape.

The risk of similar failure in the same and other vessels was addressed before start up.

Maintenance regimes were reviewed in the light of the incident.The emergency response was reviewed before start up and changes were made to procedures.

Appendix B - COMAH Regulations 1999, Schedule 7, Part 1

SCHEDULE 7 Regulation 21(1) and (2)

CRITERIA FOR NOTIFICATION OF A MAJOR ACCIDENT TO THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION AND INFORMATION TO BE NOTIFIED

PART 1

Criteria

(This part sets out the provisions of Annex VI to the Directive)

The criteria referred to in regulation 21(1) are as follows-

  1. Any accident covered in sub-paragraph (a) or having at least one of the consequences described in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) and (e) must be notified to the commission-
    1. substances involved:
      any fire or explosion or accidental discharge of a dangerous substance involving a quantity of at least 5 per cent of the qualifying quantity laid down in column 3 of Parts 2 and 3 of schedule 1;
    2. injury to persons and damage to property:
      an accident directly involving a dangerous substance and giving rise to one of the following events:-
    3. death
    4. six persons injured within the establishment and kept in hospital for at least 24 hours,
    5. one person outside the establishment kept in hospital for at least 24 hours,
    6. dwellings outside the establishment damaged and unusable as a result of the accident,
    7. the evacuation or confinement of persons for more than two hours (person x hours): the value is at least 500,
    8. the interruption of drinking water, electricity, gas or telephone services for more than two hours (person x hours): the value is at least 1,000;
  2. immediate damage to the environment:
    1. permanent or long term damage to terrestrial habitats:-
      • 0.5 ha or more of a habitat of environmental or conservation importance protected by legislation,
      • 10 or more hectares of more widespread habitat, including agricultural land;
    2. significant or long term damage to freshwater and marine habitats:
      • 10 km or more of river or canal,
      • 1 ha or more of lake or pond,
      • 2 ha or more of delta,
      • 2 ha or more of coastline or open sea;
    3. significant or long term damage to an aquifer or underground water:
      • 1 ha or more;
  3. damage to property:
    1. damage to property in the establishment of at least 2 million ECU (Euro),
    2. damage to property outside the establishment of at least 0.5 million ECU (Euro);
  4. cross-border damage:
    any accident directly involving a dangerous substance giving rise to effects outside the territory of the Member State concerned;
  5. Accidents or 'near misses'; which Member States regard as being of particular technical interest for preventing major accidents and limiting their consequences and which do not meet the quantitative criteria above should be notified to the Commission.
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