Environmental Consultant at Arup Elisha Hearn PIEMA provides insight on the Major Accidents and Disasters in EIA Primer authored by IEMA and Arup.

What is a Major Accidents and/or Disasters assessment?

Major Accidents and Disasters assessment considers the potentially significant effects of a development on the environment as a result of its vulnerability to, or introduction of, risks of major accidents and/or disasters.

Given the very specific nature of the assessment, many projects have successfully 'screened out' likely significant effects of a development from major accidents and/or disasters. As a result, the topic has become, arguably, lesser known than other EIA topics that were introduced into the 2017 EIA Regulations (including Human Health, Biodiversity and Climate).

The question the title of this topic still poses to many is what actually constitutes the definition of a 'major accident', and respectively a 'disaster'?

A major accident is an event, such as a train derailment or major road traffic accident, which threatens immediate or delayed serious environmental effects to human health, welfare and/or the environment, and requires the use of resources beyond those of the client or its appointed representatives (i.e. contractors) to manage. Major accidents can be caused by disasters resulting from both man-made and natural hazards.

So, what constitutes a 'disaster'? A disaster is a manmade/external hazard such as an act of terrorism, or a natural hazard such as an earthquake or extreme weather event, with the potential to cause an event or situation that meets the definition of a major accident (for example, a weather-triggered landslide which results in a train derailment).

Broadly speaking, major accidents and/or disasters should be considered as part of an assessment where the development has the potential to cause the loss of life, permanent injury and/or temporary or permanent destruction of an environmental receptor which cannot be restored through minor clean-up and restoration. On this basis, it is clear and important to note that the vulnerability of projects to major accidents and/or disasters is certainly not limited to 'major' projects and should be considered with equal standing to other EIA topics as part of the screening process.

What does this new IEMA primer aim to provide?

The purpose of this primer is to increase awareness of the major accidents and disasters topic and its application within all stages of EIA. The primer offers an assessment methodology based on known current practice within the UK to date, and provides definitions of key terminology.

It has been structured around a typical assessment approach and offers a proportionate method for considering major accidents and disasters through screening, scoping and assessment.

The primer has been shaped to evolve, and has been developed to generate comment and discussion from which future guidance and institutional and regulatory change can develop.

Who is the primer aimed at?

The intended audience of this primer is impact assessment practitioners, regulators and decision-makers, and anyone with an interest in improving working practice and awareness across impact assessment. It is assumed that the reader has basic knowledge of EIA in the UK. Further information can be found within IEMA's resources.

Closing remarks
By its very nature, it’s understandable that impact assessment practitioners may find Major Accidents and Disasters a daunting topic to get to grips with. As this primer aims to outline, the process of assessing a project's vulnerability to this needn't be intimidating, or disproportionally complex, compared with other EIA topics.

MAD Document September 2020


Download the IEMA Primer on Major Accidents and Disasters in EIA HERE

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated

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Elisha Hearn

Elisha Hearn is an Environmental Consultant at Arup and Practitioner Member of IEMA. She is an Environmental Impact Assessment Coordinator, with much of her experience on major transport infrastructure projects.