Three firms guilty in Buncefield oil depot blast

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Three firms guilty in Buncefield oil depot blast

21st June 2010

Three firms have been found guilty of health and safety breaches in connection with the Buncefield oil depot explosion and fire in Hertfordshire in 2005.

The blast was heard 125 miles away, injured 43 people and destroyed several homes and businesses.

TAV Engineering of Guildford, Surrey, and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 - now in voluntary liquidation - were found guilty of failing to protect their employees as well as members of the public.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage (HOSL) was found guilty of failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects, pleading guilty to causing pollution to enter controlled waters around the Buncefield site, contrary to the Water Resources Act.

Total UK and the British Pipelines Agency Ltd have already pleaded guilty to offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The verdicts follow a joint prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA) described as the largest and most complex criminal inquiry they have ever faced.The HSE and EA are responsible for regulating non-nuclear major hazardous industrial sites in the UK under the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999 (COMAH). It is their responsibility to investigate major incidents and ensure that lessons are learned.

The blast in December 2005, the result of a vapour cloud from 250,000 litres of leaking petrol igniting, measured 2.4 on the Richter scale and is believed to have been the largest explosion in peacetime Europe with the subsequent smoke plume spreading across the continent.

Karl Tonks, a Health and Safety at work specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: "The noise levels alone could have caused irreparable eardrum damage to anyone caught within close proximity to the blast. Explosions of this magnitude can easily cause partial or profound deafness."

Fortunately happening in the early hours of a Sunday morning, casualties were far lower then they could have been despite the evacuation of over two thousand local residents.

"The scale of destruction caused by this explosion was immense," said Karl, a Partner with the firm. "It is incredible that nobody was killed, if this had been a normal working day, the casualty count could have been enormous."

The extent of the environmental damage imposed by this accident is still not known and could potentially last for decades. Fines in regard to the Health and Safety at Work Act as well as breaches of the Water Resources Act could be extensive if not unlimited.

"This was a very significant incident that could have ended in tragedy, said Karl. "Any high-hazard industry involved in the storage of dangerous, explosive or volatile materials need to do everything they possibly can to minimise risk and ensure the correct safety procedures are adhered to. The companies involved clearly failed to protect their employees, members of the public and the environment."

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.

Sources - BBC