Seveso III: issues and challenges for operators
28 July 2015
Author: Maeve McKenna, principal risk consultant, AWN Consulting
The Seveso III Directive has now come into operation in Ireland (as of June 1, 2015), via the Chemicals Act, Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015. The Seveso III Directive (and 2015 COMAH Regulations) align the dangerous substances covered by the EU Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation which replaces risk phrases with hazard statements and introduces a new system for classifying and labelling substances and mixtures.
The new regulations have a number of significant consequences for the operators of Seveso establishments. They restrict operators from increasing the inventory of dangerous substances without prior approval of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), possibly requiring operators to obtain planning permission if the HSA deems the change in inventory to be a ‘significant change’. They provide greater access by the public to information on establishments and their hazards, and may require operators to directly communicate more extensively with the public outside of the site due to the removal of the ‘specified area’ from the legislation.
For upper-tier establishments, the safety report is a detailed document containing a description of the facility and installations with significant accident hazard potential, the hazard identification study (including consequence modelling and quantitative risk assessment of large accident scenarios), the major accident prevention policy and safety management system, the design standards for the facility and its processes and the emergency response plan. The safety report is submitted to the HSA for approval in advance of commencement of construction, operation or the implementation of modifications with significant repercussions for major accident hazards.
Safety report approval process
The timelines specified in the 2015 COMAH Regulations for obtaining approval following submission of the safety report to the HSA may have significant implications for commencement of construction and operation of new establishments, as this process will typically take seven months. The following illustrates how, for a new establishment, the safety report approval process could potentially impact the project timescale by more than a year:
It is essential therefore, that project managers factor safety report preparation and HSA approval into overall project timelines. In addition, modifications to existing sites (both upper and lower-tier) that constitute ‘significant changes’ must also be approved by the HSA before they can commence. This may include an increase in inventory due to the installation of a new storage vessel. In some cases, modifications will require planning permission to be obtained for developments that would otherwise be below the planning threshold.
The timescales for this process are not specified and again could significantly impact project timescales. We eagerly await further clarification on what constitutes a ‘significant change’, and timescales for the HSA and planning authority review process. In other respects, land use planning requirements remain the same. The HSA will continue to be consulted by planning authorities for technical advice on new establishments, modifications to establishments and new developments including transport routes, locations of public use and residential areas in the vicinity of establishments.
Another change for upper-tier sites is that the concept of the ‘specified area’ is no longer included in the regulations. This previously defined the area within which operators were required to inform members of the public of actions to take in the event of a major accident. It was based on the area within which the individual risk of fatality equated to 1E-07 per year (or 0.1 chances per million per year), and was derived as a result of quantitative risk assessment. As such, it was influenced by both the severity of the incident, and the likelihood that it would occur.
Often the specified area remained within the site boundary due to the very low likelihood that conditions such as those necessary to carry toxic releases over long distances (low wind speeds and stable atmospheres) would coincide with an accidental release. The 2015 COMAH Regulations provide for the HSA to identify and notify the operator of the extent of the area within which persons are likely to be affected by a significant accident. Whether this will be risk or consequence based remains to be seen. Ultimately, operators may be required to provide information to larger populations than has previously been the case, a process which needs to be carefully managed.
The COMAH Regulations 2015 strengthen public access to information, justice and participation in decision making. For the first time, operators of lower-tier establishments are required to provide public information about their establishment and its hazards and to submit their major accident prevention policy to the HSA.
Operators of both upper and lower-tier establishments will be required to make information permanently electronically available to the public. The HSA will collect this information and keep it up to date. Information on inspections will also be publicly available.
Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations (2007 to 2014)
In addition, the 2015 COMAH Regulations provide that all information held by a competent authority is treated as environmental information and subject to the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations (2007 to 2014). For many operators, information on chemicals, chemical inventories and processes is commercially confidential.
Although the AIE regulations include discretionary grounds for refusal (including commercial confidentiality and intellectual property rights), a request for environmental information shall not be refused where the request relates to information on emissions into the environment (such as a major accident). The new regulations therefore may offer little protection to commercially confidential information included in safety reports. This may yet be tested in the court system.
The 2015 COMAH Regulations bring about some changes to the emergency response planning process and to the HSA’s inspection regime for Seveso establishments. In relation to emergency planning, the internal emergency plan must be prepared in consultation with personnel on site as well as Local Competent Authorities (LCAs) (usually the fire service, ambulance service and An Garda Síochána).
LCA input in this process was not previously mandatory. The External Emergency Planning process provides for greater public participation and the LCAs will be consulted on the suitability of information to be provided to the public (in the area identified by the HSA). The new regulations will involve the implementation of a national system of inspections covering all establishments. The maximum interval between inspections is set at one year for an upper-tier establishment and three years for a lower-tier establishment. This can be varied based on an appraisal of the potential impacts of major accident hazards and the compliance record of the operator.
In conclusion, the 2015 COMAH Regulations introduce a new era with greater interaction between operators, regulators and the public. Project managers will need to consider Seveso implications from day one, putting control of major accidents at the centre of the project planning.
For more information on the 2015 COMAH Regulations see www.awnconsulting.com.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2015/07/28/seveso-iii-issues-challenges-operators/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Seveso-11.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Seveso-11-300x300.jpgChemIreland,safety