The Buncefield Investigation Board Focuses on Recommendations for the Future
The Major Incident Investigation Board is now focusing its work on developing conclusions and recommendations for future action.
The Board continues to monitor the progress of the complex on-going work and criminal investigation, but any decisions on legal proceedings are solely for HSE and EA. In all its activities and conduct the Board is very conscious of the need to avoid any risk of legal prejudice.
Lord Newton of Braintree, the Chairman of the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board said: “In the year since the Buncefield incident, local residents and businesses have continually demonstrated strength and determination to overcome the devastation and changes to daily life which have been caused by the explosion. The Dacorum Borough Council, Business Leaders and many others have worked impressively together, not only for recovery, but also for new opportunities, renewal and growth.”
He continued: “The Board is aware that great uncertainty remains and continues to work extremely hard on reaching its own conclusions and recommendations. Nothing can change what happened a year ago, but the Board knows that the right lessons must be learnt to prevent any repetition of such events.”
The publication of the Board’s Initial Report in mid July 2006 and the completion of evidence gathering on the site marked a transition point in terms of identifying issues and key areas of ongoing work. Since then the Board has focused on three main work streams comprising the lessons to be
learned from Buncefield, namely design and operation of storage sites; emergency response to incidents and advice to planning authorities. It has been looking ahead at developing conclusions and recommendations for future action. The board has decided that understanding the violence of the explosions at Buncefield, which remains unexplained, should be the subject of a separate programme of research for which the Board is currently examining suitable arrangements.
A review of regulatory policy and procedures of the HSE and Environment Agency (the joint Competent Authority, or CA) associated with Buncefield is also underway.
Finally the primary investigation into possible breaches of the law continues to make good progress. A decision on whether to recommend proceedings will be taken by the CA once all reasonable lines of inquiry are concluded.
Notes to Editors
Further update on the Buncefield Major Investigation Board’s work
1. 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 design and operations the Board has met with the Chair of the regulator/industry task group and had a number of its own detailed discussions. The development of interim recommendations is well advanced.
We hope to be in a position to publish these in late January or early February, but it is the area where legal considerations impact most forcefully.
2. On emergency response, reports continue to be published and the Board is monitoring them as they emerge. In our own recommendations we do not want to repeat what they contain, but rather to add value, offering the wider perspective that our remit permits.
Consequently, our work in this area is less advanced, but we hope to publish our interim recommendations in the first quarter of next year.
3. The situation with planning is different. In our public statement that accompanied publication of the third progress report (on 9 May) we urged HSE to review the advice it gives to planning authorities in relation to sites such as Buncefield.
As a result HSE is developing a consultative document which we understand they hope to publish in January. We have met with the HSE team responsible and have indicated the key issues that we would like to see covered in it. We will await publication of the document and consider whether it is appropriate for us to respond formally.
4. Regarding the violence of the explosion, the Board published a statement on 9 May stating, “More work is needed to fully understand the explosion mechanism and how it generated such extreme overpressures, thereby causing so much damage.”
It is now clear that such work will take years and should therefore be detached from the three main areas of concern described above. The Board has been instrumental in bringing together a working group, drawn from experts in industry and academia, to formulate a research project, and consider how such a project can be funded and managed.
5. The Board’s third term of reference is to examine the Health and Safety Executive’s and the Environment Agency’s role in regulating the activities on the Buncefield site under the COMAH Regulations considering relevant policy guidance and intervention activity.
Separate teams acting on behalf of the Board have been reviewing the regulatory systems applying to Buncefield, which the Board expects to make public in its final report.
6. The Board’s first term of reference is to ensure the thorough investigation of the incident, the factors leading up to it, its impact on and off site, and to establish its causation including root causes.
This investigation has determined what happened and how, and this information has been made public in the four reports that have been published by the Board, and which have been acted upon by the joint Competent Authority.
The investigation is continuing to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry and in particular is focusing on why control of the fuel in tank 912 was lost and whether there have been breaches of the law.
For more information of an interview with a member of the Buncefield Investigation Board please contact Suzanne Halls on 07971 186710.