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Management flaws lay behind Buncefield disaster

Fundamental safety management failings were the root cause of Britain’s most costly industrial disaster, according to a new Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency report.

Using previously unpublished material held back until the criminal prosecution was completed, the report gives the full account into how the explosion and five-day fire occured.

Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency’s report “The Buncefield explosion: Why did it happen?” identifies several failings including:

  • Systems for managing the filling of industrial tanks of petrol were both deficient and not fully implemented
  • An increase in the volume of fuel passing through the site put unsustainable pressure on those responsible for managing its receipt and storage, a task they lacked information about and struggled to monitor. The pressure was made worse by a lack of necessary engineering support and other expertise.
  • A culture developed where keeping operations going was more important than safe processes, which did not get the attention, resources or priority status they required.
  • Inadequate arrangements for containment of fuel and fire-water to protect the environment.

“Major industrial incidents are thankfully rare - this report will help make them even less frequent by sharing somekey insights and lessons with the wider high hazard industries,” said COMAH Competent Authority Strategic Management Group which published the report Gordon MacDonald.

“Companies that work in a high hazardous industry need to have strong safety systems in place, underpinned by the right safety culture.”

“Buncefield is a stark reminder of the potential result of a poor attitude towards safety. The local community was devastated and the environmental impact of the disaster is still evident today. With estimated total costs exceeding £1bn, this remains Britain’s most costly industrial disaster.”

In July 2010, five companies were fined a total of £9.5million for their part in the catastrophe.

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