Record fines over Buncefield should lead to improved safety

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Record fines over Buncefield should lead to improved safety

20th July 2010

Record fines have been issued to five companies over their part in the fire and explosion disaster at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in Hertfordshire.

An investigation into the incident, which occurred on the morning of 11 December 2005, revealed a series of serious failings that led to thousands of gallons of petrol being released in a large vapour cloud. The explosion which followed shortly after 6am registered at 2.4 on the Richter scale and injured 43 people, destroying several nearby businesses.

"The judge has criticised the companies involved for showing inefficiency and a more or less complacent attitude to safety," said Karl Tonks, a health and safety specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP. "He ordered the five firms to pay a total of £9.5 million between them in fines and costs for their part in the disaster.

"Dealing with the effects of the incident, both in the immediate aftermath and the years that have followed, has already cost more than an estimated £1billion," said Karl. "It is by far the most costly industrial incident to have occurred in the UK."

The Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency carried out their most complex joint investigation ever before beginning the prosecution of Total UK Ltd, British Pipeline Agency Ltd (BPA), Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (HOSL), TAV Engineering Ltd (TAV) and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd.

"The fines relating to pollution charges are a record in this country," said Karl, "while the £3million fines for Total are the second highest to be handed down for safety offences. It is proof positive that ignoring stringent regulations will prove very costly in the long-term."

"The disaster at Buncefield had an enormous impact on not just those that were injured, but the local community as a whole," he said. "The long-term pollution is its lasting legacy, and the area has already been subject to a five-year clean-up operation by the companies involved.

"These fines should leave in no doubt that any company failing to ensure the safety of its workers and the surrounding environment will face the toughest of penalties."

At St Albans Crown Court on Friday, 16 July, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith handed down the following sentences:

  • Total UK Limited pleaded guilty to three offences and was fined £3.6 million (£3million for safety; £600,000 for pollution) and ordered to pay costs of £2.6 million
  • Supply company British Pipeline Agency Ltd pleaded guilty to three offences and was fined £300,000 for environmental offences and ordered to pay costs of £480,000
  • Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd was found guilty of two offences and fined £1.4 million (£1million for safety; £450,000 for pollution) with costs of £1 million
  • TAV Engineering Ltd, which designed a crucial safety switch that failed, was found guilty of one offence, fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 costs
  • Installation and maintenance company Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of £500 after being found guilty of one offence

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for accidents at work.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - Guardian, HSE