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August 27, 2009

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HSE regrets inadequate regulation of ICL Plastics site

The HSE has admitted it failed to adequately regulate gas hazards at the ICL Plastics factory in Glasgow, where nine people lost their lives in an explosion in 2004.

In its preliminary formal response issued yesterday (27 August) to the official inquiry report by Lord Gill, which was published in July and heavily criticised the regulator, the Executive acknowledged that its dealings with ICL were “far from typical of our normal interactions with duty-holders”.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: “The board and staff of the HSE take the lessons of this tragic event very seriously and will continue to scrutinise our systems to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of management and oversight.
 
“While Lord Gill rightly concluded that the responsibility for the disaster lay with ICL Plastics and ICL Tech, who were convicted and fined heavily for their actions, I want to reiterate our heartfelt sorrow and regret that HSE’s interventions were not more successful in preventing this terrible tragedy.”

The formal response was issued to to Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and the Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy and outlines the action the HSE is taking to address areas of concern identified by the inquiry.

Among other measures, the regulator says it has:

  • moved on significantly from 1980s and 1990s inspection practices to better appreciate, track and audit issues of regulatory concern;
  • been thorough in producing a proper safety assessment of the risks associated with the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and is making progress with industry on preparing a risk-based and prioritised replacement programme for underground metallic LPG pipe-work, to be complete by the end of 2015.
  • gone further than Lord Gill suggested by also developing plans for tackling the risks to domestic properties with LPG supplies
  • initiated a 12-week preliminary consultation on the proposals for changes in the regulation of the LPG industry system, and the application of Lord Gill’s recommendations to other areas of health and safety regulation.

Added Hackitt: “Good progress was already being made in areas Lord Gill highlighted for action. And although the development of the LPG pipe-work replacement programme with the LPG supply industry has taken some time, this was due to the need to act on the basis of evidence, and to do the necessary preparation for such a major undertaking.
 
“It is important that all interested parties now respond to our consultation on the proposed changes to the LPG regulatory scheme, and on the wider issue of whether risk assessments should require third-party validation.”

There are currently estimated to be between 15,000 and 40,000 industrial/ commercial premises with buried metallic pipe-work, and between 24,000 and 54,000 domestic properties. Replacement work has already started and will accelerate in October, once a survey to prioritise premises is finished. Businesses with buried metallic service pipe-work, which can corrode over time, will be required to replace it with more durable materials, such as polyethylene.

The HSE has also launched a preliminary consultation on the recommendations made by Lord Gill for reform of the regulatory system for LPG, and is seeking views on key proposals, including that:

  • A new safety regime should be put in place governing the installation, maintenance, monitoring and replacement of all LPG systems;
  • A new scheme should be introduced that would require all LPG suppliers to be registered and accredited; and
  • The current risk assessment system should be improved by the addition of an independent audit process.

The condoc is published online at www.hse.gov.uk/lpgconsultation/index.htm

The full text of the HSE’s response to ministers is available at www.hse.gov.uk/gas/lpg/letter.htm

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