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Total UK pleads guilty to Buncefield safety breaches

Author : Amy Hollamby

13 November 2009

The Buncefield explosion on December 11, 2005, was the largest in Europe since the end of World War II and was caused by staff on duty failing to notice that a tank gauge had become stuck causing 300 tonnes of petrol to spill over the top of one of the storage tanks.

Buncefield blast plea
Buncefield blast plea

The tank continued to fill past critical levels after a backup safety switch failed to trigger, causing the plant to fill with petrol vapour. Alerted by a tanker driver to the strong smell of petrol vapour, the supervisor on duty at the time of the incident then shut off the wrong pipeline by mistake. The vapour cloud ignited, and caused widespread damage and injured 43 people.

Now, nearly four years later, a plea and case management hearing will take place at the Old Bailey on Friday 13th November.

  • Total UK is facing three charges:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Total pleaded guilty to endangering workers and members of the public by failing to adequately manage risks associated with the filling, emptying and monitoring of fuel storage tanks at the depot, which resulted in over filling of the tanks and the release of flammable materials that caused the explosion. Total additionally pleaded guilty to causing fuel and chemicals to be released into the chalk acquifer beneath the Buncefield depot.

  • Hertfordshire Oil Storage is facing two charges:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage pleaded not guilty.

  • British Pipeline Agency is facing two charges:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

British Pipeline Agency pleaded not guilty.

  • TAV Engineering is facing one charge:

  1. 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.

TAV pleaded not guilty to failures in the design and manufacture of the switches that should have triggered an alarm

  • Motherwell Control Systems 2003 is facing one charge:

  1. 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.

Motherwell Control Systems pleaded not guilty to failing toconduct adequate maintenance and technical support of switches which should have triggered an alarm when fuel tanks were filled over a certain level.


A trial date has been provisionally fixed for 14 April 2010 at St Albans Crown Court. 



 


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