Industry Ignoring Buncefield Lesson

Expert Speaks Out Following 2005 Explosion


The devastating Buncefield fire should have encouraged UK industry to prepare for disaster, but instead companies refuse to believe it will happen to them, a business continuity expert has said.

Businesses seem to have the attitude that only on-site risks matter, local emergency services can cope with anything and the worse-case scenario will never happen anyway, said Paul Frankland, assistant vice president of Sembcorp Protection Group.

He thinks the global recession is causing managers to bury their heads in the sand, rather than spend money and resources developing emergency-preparedness plans, staff training and full-scale testing how the company would respond to a catastrophe.

At the very least businesses should have audited their existing plans with the 2005 Buncefield explosion in mind, as the fuel depot's safety system had failed, but Frankland believes this has not happened, and argued that businesses that do have robust arrangements spend too little time testing them.

He said: "On-site facilities can so easily be destroyed or rendered inaccessible in a worse-case scenario incident, as was demonstrated by the Buncefield explosion. At a major incident, every minute really does count, so having to first re-establish an emergency control centre simply is not a viable option."

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David Urpeth from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “If this research is correct, then this is a very worrying position. Explosions at work can be devastating for workers and residents alike.

“Companies processing, storing or manufacturing explosive substances need to do so in a safe manner and have robust systems in place for dealing with emergencies.

“The last thing that anyone should want is to see is anyone lose their life in an accident at work in circumstances that could and should have been avoided.”

Mr Urpeth represented over 75 workers and many residents who were injured in the 2001 at the Killingholme refinery when over 170 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas caught fire, the largest chemical disaster since Flixborough. Conoco-Phillips, who owned the plant, was eventually fined £1m for breaching health and safety regulations after the explosion at its Humber refinery.