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    Report reveals fundamental management flaws behind Buncefield disaster

    A report, The Buncefield explosion: Why did it happen?, into the explosion and fire at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in December 2005 has revealed that “fundamental safety management failings were the root cause” of the most costly industrial disaster to occur in Britain.

    The report draws on previously unpublished material held back until the criminal prosecution was complete. It highlights a number of process safety management principles which should have been in place, namely:

    • Understanding: of the major accident risks and the safety critical equipment and systems designed to control them;
    • Culture: a culture in place to detect signals of failure in safety critical equipment and to respond to them quickly and effectively;
    • Resources: including time, for process safety should be made available;
    • Auditing: effective auditing systems which test the quality of management systems and ensure that these systems are actually being used on the ground; and
    • Leadership: clear and positive process safety leadership with board-level involvement and competence to ensure that major hazard risks are being properly managed.
    Stark reminder of poor attitude consequences

    In July 2010, five companies were fined a total of £9.5million for their part in the catastrophe. The economic cost of the incident was estimated as close to £1billion by the Major Incident Investigation Board, which also ranked the economic impact of other global petrochemical incidents. 

    Gordon MacDonald, the chairman of the COMAH Competent Authority Strategic Management Group which published the report, said:

    “Major industrial incidents are thankfully rare – this report will help make them even less frequent by sharing some key insights and lessons with the wider high hazard industries.

    Companies that work in a high hazardous industry need to have strong safety systems in place, underpinned by the right safety culture. Buncefield is a stark reminder of the potential result of a poor attitude towards safety.

    The local community was devastated and the environmental impact of the disaster is still evident today. With estimated total costs exceeding £1billion, this remains Britain’s most costly industrial disaster.”


    The Buncefield report comes shortly after HSE has published a report on preventing Catastrophic Events in construction.

    The critical ‘management principles’ identified from the Buncefield incident are well worth emphasising on larger construction projects: understand your worst case scenarios; develop a positive culture led by directors with adequate resources backed up by a rigorous system of auditing – job done!   

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      […] safety culture has frequently been identifed as a significant root cause of major incidents and poor health and safety […]