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Explosion and fire at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot

Five companies to face prosecution

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (the EA) are to prosecute five companies following the explosions and fire at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire in December 2005.

Criminal proceedings have been commenced against Total UK Ltd, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd; British Pipeline Agency Ltd; TAV Engineering Ltd; and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd following a thorough and complex criminal investigation conducted by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

The initial court date has been fixed for 23 January 2009 at West Hertfordshire Magistrates Court, Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17 1ST. The prosecution of the five defendants in relation to the Buncefield incident is now a matter for the Court. HSE and the EA are unable to comment further on the decision to prosecute.

1. On 11 December 2005, a number of explosions occurred at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in Hemel Hempstead. At least one of the initial explosions was of massive proportions and there was a large fire and over 40 people were injured. Following the explosion, a Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) was established by the Health and Safety Commission, supported by the Board of the Environment Agency, under section 14 (2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Lord Newton was appointed to chair the MIIB which has carried out an extensive investigation into the causes of the incident and ways to avoid similar incidents in the future and has published a number of reports.

2. The Government responded to the work of the MIIB on 13 November 2008. Lord McKenzie, DWP Minister responsible for health and safety made a written statement in the House of Lords.

3. The EA in England and Wales, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland, and HSE are jointly responsible (the Competent Authority) for regulating non nuclear major hazardous industrial sites in the UK under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 (COMAH). COMAH requires operators of major hazard sites subject to the Regulations to take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment. Operators of top tier COMAH sites (like Buncefield) are also required to submit written safety reports to the Competent Authority; and to prepare emergency plans to deal with the consequences of a major accident. Operators and others (including contractors, designers and suppliers) also have relevant duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and under other environmental legislation to protect land, air and water, including the Water Resources Act 1991.

4. The MIIB was not appointed to take any decisions on legal proceedings that fall to be considered under the criminal investigation. Decisions on criminal proceedings are for HSE and the EA (and HSE and SEPA in Scotland) as the enforcing authorities under the relevant regulations.

5. The details of the charges are as follows:

5.1 Total UK Ltd of 40 Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, is facing three charges:

Between the 1st day of January 2003 and the 12th day of December 2005 Total UK Ltd failed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees, contrary to Section 2(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Between the 1st day of January 2003 and 12th day of December 2005, Total UK Ltd failed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health or safety, contrary to Sections 3(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Between the 10th day of December 2005 and the 31st day of December 2005, Total UK Ltd caused polluting matter, namely fuel and firewater chemicals to enter controlled waters, namely ground waters in the chalk aquifer underlying the vicinity of Buncefield, contrary to sections 85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

5.2 Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, of 40 Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, is facing two charges:

Between the 1st day of January 2003 and the 12th day of December 2005, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd failed to take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment, contrary to Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Between the 10th day of December 2005 and the 31st day of December 2005, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd caused polluting matter, namely fuel and firewater chemicals to enter controlled waters, namely ground waters in the chalk aquifer underlying the vicinity of Buncefield, contrary to s.85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

5.3 British Pipeline Agency Ltd, of 5 – 7 Alexandra Road, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, is facing two charges:

Between the 18th day of November 2001 and the 12th day of December 2005, British Pipeline Agency Ltd failed to take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment, contrary to Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Between the 10th day of December 2005 and the 31st day of December 2005, British Pipeline Agency Ltd caused polluting matter, namely fuel and firewater chemicals to enter controlled waters, namely ground waters in the chalk aquifer underlying the vicinity of Buncefield, contrary to s.85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

5.4 TAV Engineering Ltd, of The Oriel, Sydenham Road, Guildford, Surrey, is facing one charge:

Between the 1st day of October 2003 and the 12th day of December 2005, TAV Engineering Limited failed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health or safety, contrary to Sections 3(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

5.5 Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd, c/o Rooney Associates 2nd Floor, 19 Castle Street, Liverpool, is facing one charge:

Between the 28th day of September 2003 and the 12th day of December 2005 Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Limited failed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health or safety, contrary to Sections 3(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

6. You are advised to check the time and date of the hearing with the Court nearer the time to ensure that the case has not been put back.

7. Now that criminal proceedings have commenced your attention is drawn to the fact that the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act 1980 apply to this case.

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