Documents considered by the Committee on 14 December 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

6 Major accident hazards from dangerous substances



+ ADDs 1-2

COM(10) 781

Draft Directive on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances

Legal baseArticle 192(1) TFEU; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentWork and Pensions
Basis of considerationMinister's letters of 19 May and 1 December 2011
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-xv (2010-11), chapter 4 (2 February 2011)
Discussion in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information awaited


6.1 Although EU legislation to prevent, and respond to, major industrial accidents was first introduced in 1982, the current requirements are set out in Council Directive 96/82/EC[35] (the so-called "Seveso Directive"), which identifies both named substances[36] (in Part 1) and broad categories of dangerous substances[37] (in Part 2) regarded as potentially hazardous, and lays down certain requirements according to the quantities present at a particular establishment. Where those quantities exceed a basic threshold, the obligations on an operator involve notification to the Member State of the quantities and physical form of any dangerous substances present on a site, the activity carried out there, and its immediate environment; the drawing up, and implementation, of an accident prevention policy; and the reporting of any major accidents (including any steps proposed to avoid a recurrence). In addition, the Member State itself must ensure that the need to prevent major accidents, and to limit their consequences, is taken into account in land use policies. Where the quantities of a dangerous substance exceed a higher threshold laid down in the Directive, the operator is subject to more comprehensive requirements regarding the provision of a major accident prevention policy and safety management system, emergency plans, and the provision of information on safety measures to those who could be affected by a major accident originating at the site.

6.2 The current classification of substances in the Annex to the Directive is based on that in two other measures,[38] but these are being repealed and replaced by a new measure (Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008) with effect from 1 June 2015. Since this will in any case require a consequential amendment to Directive 96/82/EC, the Commission carried out a wider review of that measure's effectiveness, as a result of which it put forward in December 2010 this proposal.

6.3 As we noted in our Report of 2 February 2011, the main effect would be to align Annex I of Directive 96/82/EC with the classification of dangerous substances and mixtures contained in Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008, and to enable further technical amendments to be made to that Annex to adapt its scope to new technologies and emerging risks, and address how any unintended or undesirable consequences of this alignment could be resolved. In particular, the Commission proposes that the Annex could be amended by delegated acts, which would develop criteria for derogations where a substance has no major accident potential, and introduce a safeguard clause for those which have major accident potential, but which would fall outside the scope of the Directive.

6.4 We noted that the Government agreed that, as the risks from major accident hazards are significant and can be trans-boundary in nature, the same measures should be adopted by each Member State to reduce the risks to humans and the environment, and that this warranted action at EU level. More generally, the Government described the new Directive as being an important step in the development of major accident hazards legislation, and it broadly welcomed the proposal as a proportionate and well-balanced response. At the same time, it cautioned that this initial view might change as the detail emerged, and suggested that one key issue would be the scope of the new Directive, which is partly dependent on the Commission's proposal to draw up new derogation arrangements and a safeguard clause.

6.5 We were also told that, although the Commission had prepared an impact assessment, much of the information relating to the UK was out of date, but that a UK assessment which more accurately reflects the costs and benefits of the proposal was being developed. In the meantime, based on the Commission's assessment, the initial estimate of the cost of the proposal to UK industry and other bodies of the preferred options in the proposal was around £7 million over a ten year period, with annual costs of about £0.8 million. In noting the Government's general support for the proposal, we highlighted the importance of the scope of the new Directive, which in turn was partly dependent on the Commission's proposal to draw up new derogation arrangements and a safeguard clause. We therefore said that we would hold the document under scrutiny, pending further information on these points, and receipt of the UK Impact Assessment.

Minister's letters of 19 May and 5 December 2011

6.6 We have since received two letters from the Minister for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling), providing updates on the progress of negotiations, and on the cost and benefits to the UK.

6.7 His first letter of 19 May 2011 says that an Impact Assessment had shown that the costs to the UK over ten years would range from £75-£95 million — about ten times the Commission's estimate — with around £20 million for aligning the two measures, around £20 million for operators to provide information to all those liable to be affected, and some £40 million for the additional duties falling on Member State competent authorities. He also said that the proposal had received a first read-through in a Council working group, which had taken on board many of the UK's suggestions, which centred on four broad areas — the alignment of the Annex I with the new Regulation, the correction mechanism for dealing with any consequential unwelcome effects, information for the public, and inspection. The Minister said that the proposal would now be considered by the European Parliament, and he said that he would write to us again later in the year before its first reading. In view of this, our Chairman replied saying that, whilst we had noted the position, we felt it would be best to await that further information before we considered drawing the proposal to the attention of the House, and we have now received a letter of 1 December 2011 from the Minister saying that a first reading vote is expected in the European Parliament plenary on 1 February 2012. In the meantime, he says that the Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee had adopted 145 amendments to the proposal, some of which were helpful to the UK, and others less so. Those in the first category included:

  • allowing inspection frequencies for Seveso sites to be based on a systematic appraisal of major accident hazards, rather than relying solely on prescriptive inspection intervals: the UK already sets inspection frequencies based on hazard and risk and would not wish to regress to prescriptive intervals;
  • implementing major accident prevention policies by appropriate safety management systems, which is more in line with the UK position than the Commission proposal;
  • a proposal on confidentiality which covers both public requests for information as well as information which regulators have to disclose: the UK is pressing for a strong provision on confidentiality to balance the broad public information rights.

6.8 On the other hand, the Committee was less helpful in other areas in that:

  • it agreed with the Commission's proposal for an expansion of scope regarding which dangerous substances are included in the Directive, and has indicated that this issue is key to achieving a first reading deal: the UK prefers a more limited scope to make it more in line with the current position;
  • whilst the UK supports providing an easily understandable summary of public information, the Committee is pushing for more detailed information to be provided, such as a definitive list of dangerous substances: this may have security implications, be costly and would be unlikely to help a layperson;
  • an amendment seeks to extend the proposal to include protection of property (in addition to people and the environment), and requests the Commission to examine whether there should be an extension at a later date to include offshore oil exploration, pipelines and certain nano-materials: the UK line on both these points is that other legislation already adequately covers these issues.

The Minister adds that one of the UK priorities during the remaining negotiations will be to resist as far as possible movement to the ENVI Committee position on the more problematic subjects.

6.9 The Minister also says that the UK Impact Assessment has recently been updated to reflect better scientific analysis about which substances will come into scope of the proposal, and that it is now estimated that the total cost of implementation to the UK over 10 years is £55-70 million, much of the decrease being due to a 60% reduction in the net number of new sites expected to move into scope of the Directive (from 65 to 27). However, he emphasises that there is considerable uncertainty around the effect of the proposal on sites which are currently out of scope, and that this uncertainty will remain until sites actually notify once the Directive has been implemented in the UK. He adds that the Assessment will be further refined to reflect the emerging results of the negotiations, in which the UK will continue to push for amendments which maintain or improve protection for workers, the public and environment, and minimise costs to UK industry and regulators. He also says that he will write to us again in advance of the plenary vote in the European Parliament.


6.10 We are grateful to the Minister for these updates, which we think it right to draw to the attention of the House at this stage. However, as the Minister has said that he will be writing to us again before the matter comes before the European Parliament plenary, we are continuing to hold the document under scrutiny pending that letter and any further developments.

35   OJ No. L 10, 14.1.97, p.13. Back

36   These include elements (such as bromine and chlorine), compounds (such as ammonium nitrate, phosgene, and those derived from arsenic and nickel), petrol, carcinogens, and dioxins and furans. Back

37   These are described in terms of such qualities as toxicity, explosivity, flammability, and substances which are toxic to the aquatic environment. Back

38   Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 22 December 2011