Major Accident Hazards

The European Commission has proposed changes to the current rules regarding major chemical accident hazards. This concerns the so-called “Seveso II” Directive (named after the 1976 incident in Seveso, Italy) on safety requirements for industrial installations using dangerous substances. The modified rules would apply to around 10,000 industrial establishments in the EU.

The EU system of classification of dangerous substances has changed since Seveso II was adopted. This was the trigger for a review of Seveso II. But the Commission took the opportunity to launch a wider review of the Directive. What it found was that the approach and framework are still appropriate, and so will be maintained, but some changes will be made to update or clarify certain provisions where the need for this was identified.

Key to the Directive is its Annex I. It lists the dangerous substances covered by the Directive. Establishments where these substances are present above certain thresholds fall within the scope of the Directive and thus are required to carry out specific safety obligations. This list will be updated.

Further, the proposed changes would extend the scope to cover installations such as pipelines, railway stations and harbours.

The new set of rules introduces stricter inspection standards and strengthens provisions concerning transparency, availability of quality information and public access to information.

Following are the main areas where changes are being proposed by the Commission:

Scope

The proposed revision of the Seveso II Directive applies to establishments where dangerous substances listed in Annex I are present above prescribed thresholds. The main change to the current Directive is to align its Annex I (defining the substances falling within its scope) to changes to the EU system of classification of dangerous substances set out in the CLP Regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of dangerous substances and mixtures.

Definitions

The proposal clarifies the definitions of “establishment”, “operator” and “installation”. It adds definitions for the different kinds of establishments falling within the Directive’s scope as for instance upper- and lower-tier establishment. Establishments are divided into upper- or lower-tier establishments in accordance with the categories set out in Annex I depending on the quantities of dangerous substances they manage.

Definitions for “inspections”, “the public” and “the public concerned” are also added in order to bring the Directive more into line with the definitions in other safety-related Directives.

“Delegated Acts”

The proposal introduces a new provision which allows the Commission to adapt Annex I in the future through “delegated acts”. In that way, the Commission may update Annex I, adding or removing dangerous substances from the list, without needing to submit proposals to the full “co-decision” legislative procedure.

Obligations on Operators

The rules as regards obligations on operators remain mainly unchanged. Establishments where hazardous substances are present must notify their activities to the competent authorities in the Member States and establish a major accident prevention policy.

There are also obligations on public authorities, such as setting up external emergency plans and providing public information as regards safety measures for upper-tier establishments, domino effects, land-use planning, accident reporting, and inspections.

Notification

The new set of rules extends information obligations in relation to notifications to include information about neighbouring establishments, whether or not they are covered by the Directive. Operators will be required to update their notifications at least every five years.

Major-Accident Prevention Policy

The new proposed rules make it clear that all establishments must have a major-accident prevention policy (MAPP) proportionate to the hazards. The scope of the MAPP and its relationship with safety management systems (SMS) is also clarified under the new legislation. In line with the provision on notifications the MAPP should also be updated at least every five years.

Domino Effect

The so-called “domino effects” are knock-on events that may occur when establishments are closely located and accidents in one plant may impact nearby located plants. The new provisions maintain the obligation on competent authorities to identify those establishments that are so close together that the consequences of a major accident are increased.

However, the revised rules would apply to both upper- and lower-tier establishments.  The aim is to ensure that operators exchange information with neighbouring establishments, including those that fall outside the scope of the Directive.

Safety Report

The proposed rules maintain the requirement for upper-tier establishments to prepare a safety report. However, the new rules clarify the relationship with the MAPP and SMS in particular in respect of the obligations for lower-tier establishments in the latter regard. The safety report has to be updated regularly and communicated to the competent authorities.

Modifications within the Establishment

In line with the existing provisions, the proposed Directive obliges operators to update their management systems, procedures, MAPP and safety report in the event of significant modifications within their establishment. In this respect only minor changes are introduced in line with changes made to related provisions.

Emergency Plans

The new legal framework maintains the requirements relating to emergency planning for upper-tier establishments. However, it now requires public consultations on external emergency plans to be in line with other safety-related Directives and it makes the separation of responsibilities between operators and competent authorities in relation to the review, testing and updating of internal and external emergency plans clearer.

Land-Use Planning

As regards land-use planning, the proposed revision introduces only minor changes, clarifying that the aim is to protect the environment as well as human health and that it applies to all establishments. It also provides where possible for integration of land-use planning procedures with those under the Environment Impact Assessment Directive.

Information to the Public

The new rules retain the current requirements that information has to actively be made available to persons liable to be affected by a major accident. Under the new provisions the information includes basic information for all establishments, i.e. name, address and activities. Upper-tier establishments have to provide a summary of the major-accident scenarios and key information from their external emergency plan.

Public Consultation and Participation in Decision-Making

In order to bring the Seveso II Directive more into line with other safety-related Directives the proposal introduces a new provision requiring that the public should be able to give its opinion in certain cases relating to land-use planning, modifications to existing establishments and external emergency plans.

Reporting of Major Accidents

Operators are under an obligation of reporting major accidents to the competent authorities as soon as practicable. The deadline for the submission of reports of accidents by Member States to the Commission is set to 12 months. The quantity threshold for reportable accidents is changed under the new rules to prevent future accidents by allowing early reporting and analysis of accidents involving high quantities of dangerous substances.

Competent Authorities

The proposal builds upon the existing rules as regards competent authorities. Each Member State has to appoint one competent authority to lead coordinating activities. The new provisions however strengthen the existing requirements in relation to inspections. The importance of making available sufficient resources for inspections and the need to encourage exchange of information is underlined.

Information System

As regards the availability of information on establishments and major accidents held by the Commission the main change is that the current Seveso Plants Information Retrieval System (SPIRS) database will include new information for the public and the database will be open to the public.

Confidentiality

The proposed set of rules includes new provisions on confidentiality, which place greater weight on openness and transparency while providing for non-disclosure of information in duly justified casas where confidentiality is required, e.g. for security reasons.

Access to Justice

A new provision is added as regards access to Justice. Accordingly, Member States are required to ensure that the public concerned, including interested environmental NGOs, have access to administrative or judicial review to challenge any acts or omissions that could violate their rights in relation to access to information, consultation and participation in decision-making.

Next Steps

Discussions in the European Parliament and the Council on this proposal will take place during 2011. The new Directive should apply from 1 June 2015.