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HSE objections scupper plans for West Midlands recycling plant

05 November 2012

Concerns raised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about a planned waste recycling facility in the West Midlands were sufficient to cause a planning inspector to dismiss an appeal due to the unacceptable risk to human life.

The site lay adjacent to a large fuel storage depot and although a previous scheme had been approved in 2007 and not implemented, the HSE stated that its advice to local planning authorities had changed following the explosion of the Buncefield fuel terminal in Hemel Hempstead. 

The new guidance stated that no new building should be erected within 150 metres of bunds surrounding relevant petrol tanks and since the appeal site could not meet this requirement, there was an unacceptable risk to potential workers and property.

The company behind the plans accepted that the waste recycling facility would operate over a 24-hour period with an operator and assistant on each shift and a maximum of four vehicle drivers also on site at any one time, but said that an explosion similar to Buncefield was unlikely given the fact that that event was caused by a series of events and errors occurring at the same time. Additionally, the facility would deal primarily with wet waste, which would limit the opportunity for a fire breaking out on the site.

The inspector agreed that he was not bound to accept the advice of the HSE, however, it should nonetheless be given substantial weight. The HSE’s approach involved ensuring that new developments were built at a sufficient distance to allow protection of workers in the event of an explosion and to fully eliminate this risk the tanks would have to be placed underground which was not feasible. 

Since some employees would be on site for more than the two to three hours recommended by the HSE the risk was unacceptable and reference to other developments permitted elsewhere in the area did not outweigh the risk.

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