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Buncefield firms found guilty of safety failings

Author : Amy Hollamby

21 June 2010

Following a two month trial, one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history, three companies are facing huge fines after being convicted of involvement in the Buncefield disaster. On the 18th June, a jury found TAV Engineering guilty of failing to protect workers and members of the public following an investigation into the explosion and fire at Buncefield Oil Storage Depot on 11 December 2005.

Buncefield firms found guilty of safety failings
Buncefield firms found guilty of safety failings

Motherwell Control Systems was found guilty of the same charge on the 16th June. Both TAV Engineering and Motherwell Control had pleaded not guilty

Also this week, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL) was found guilty of failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects. HOSL also pleaded guilty to causing pollution to enter controlled waters underlying the vicinity around Buncefield contrary to the Water Resources Act.

Total UK has previously admitted three health and safety breaches in connection with the explosion, while the British Pipeline Agency had also admitted two charges.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency are the 'Competent Authority' responsible for regulating non-nuclear major hazardous industrial sites in the UK under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 (COMAH). As the competent authority, the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency have a responsibility to investigate major incidents and ensure that lessons are learned.

The Health & Safety Executive and the Environment Agency said: "This was the biggest and most complex criminal inquiry we have worked on together - the product of many hundreds of hours of painstaking forensic investigation.

"When companies put workers and members of the public at risk and cause environmental damage we will prosecute.

"When the largest fire in peacetime Europe tore through the Buncefield site on that Sunday morning in December 2005, these companies had failed to protect workers, members of the public and the environment.

"The scale of the explosion and fire at Buncefield was immense and it was miraculous that nobody died. Unless the high hazard industries truly learn the lessons, then we may not be that fortunate in future."

The destruction at the Hertfordshire depot came after a massive vapour cloud ignited when 250,000 litres of petrol leaked from one of its tanks. The blast, widely thought to be the largest explosion in peacetime Europe, measured 2.4 on the Richter scale and could be heard 125 miles away.

During the trial, which started on 15th April, jurors were told that the environmental damage caused was still not known but could last for decades.

Sentencing is due to take place on 16th July, when the companies will face unlimited fines.

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