BUNCEFIELD INQUIRY – prohibition notices served on oil companies

Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers marching during their Xmas picket at Heathrow last Sunday
Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers marching during their Xmas picket at Heathrow last Sunday

THE Health and Safety Commission (HSC) yesterday announced the official inquiry into the Buncefield oil depot fire.

HSC chairman Bill Callaghan told a press conference that prohibition notices had been issued against Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (Texaco and Total) and British Pipeline Agency Ltd.

He told reporters: ‘Our immediate priority is to ensure the safety of everything that goes on on the site after the incident.

‘The prohibition notices require that the operators should agree control measures with the Health and Safety Executive before any activities take place on the site.

‘So they’re about securing the safety now.’

Callaghan added that the notices were a ‘precautionary measure’ to make sure no unnecessary risks were taken following the incident.

The HSC supervises the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

He said the HSC’s aim is ‘for the investigation to engage with the public and the local community with maximum openness and transparency’.

The investigation ‘will want to have the fullest engagement with those who were running the site, those who were employed on it and the wider industry’.

HSE deputy chief executive Justin McCracken assured the local community that ‘any activity on the site at the moment is solely for the purpose of making the site safe for people and the environment, and to facilitate the investigation.’

Callaghan said the Buncefield inquiry would be the most wide-ranging health and safety inquiry since the investigation into the Potters Bar rail crash in 2002.

He said the terms of reference are ‘to ensure a thorough investigation of the incident, the factors leading up to it, which impact both on and offsite, and to establish its causation, including root causes’.

Next is ‘to identify and transmit without delay to duty holders and other appropriate recipients any information requiring immediate action to further safety and or environmental protection in relation to the storage and distribution of hydrocarbon fuels.’

Further, ‘To examine the Health and Safety Executive’s and Environment Agency’s role in regulating the activities on this site under to COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) regulations, considering relevant policy guidance and intervention activity.’

He said the inquiry will keep all relevant stakeholders ‘informed of progress with the investigation and contribute relevant expertise to other inquiries which may be established and make recommendations for future action to ensure the effective management and regulation of accident risk at COMAH sites.

‘This should include consideration of offsite as well as onsite risk, and consider prevention of incidents, preparations for response to incidents, and mitigation of their effects.’

An initial report will be produced for the HSC and the Environment Agency ‘as soon as the main facts have been established and, subject to legal considerations, this report will be made public’.

Lastly, Callaghan said that the inquiry will ‘ensure that the relevant notifications are made to the European Commission’ and that ‘the final report will be made public’.

The investigation will be overseen by a board which will report to the HSC and the Environment Agency.

Callaghan said: ‘The chair of this board will be independent of both bodies. And the board will also include independent members with relevant expertise, as well as staff from the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

‘And on behalf of the Commission I shall approve the membership of the board.

‘The Health and Safety Commission will publish the findings of the special report as provided for under the Health and Safety at Work Act.’