Management flaws responsible for Buncefield oil depot disaster in 2005

17th March 2011

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Management failings were the root cause of Britain's most costly industrial disaster, according to a new report from the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency on the fire at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in December 2005.

Although failures of design and maintenance in both overfill protection systems and liquid containment systems – a bund retaining wall around the tank and a system of drains and catchment areas – were the technical causes of the initial explosion and the seepage of pollutants to the environment in its aftermath, the report states management failings were the real cause of the disaster.

The report, which draws on previously unreleased information, reveals that: the systems for managing the filling of oil tanks were both deficient and not fully implemented; there was unsustainable pressure on those responsible for managing the receipt and storage of fuel, which was made worse by a lack of necessary support and other expertise; keeping operations going was more important than safe processes, which did not get the attention, resources or priority they required; and there were inadequate arrangements for containment of fuel and fire-water to protect the environment.

The Buncefield explosion is the largest peacetime fire in Europe and lasted five days. Last year, five companies – Total UK, British Pipeline Agency, Hertfordshire Oil Storage, Motherwell Control Systems and TAV Engineering – were fined £9.5 million for their part in the incident, including £1.3 million in fines for pollution offences, which is a record for a single incident in the UK.


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