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Working towards standardisation of the Oil Storage Regulations

23 January 2013

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses the complexity of UK Oil Storage Regulations and the pressing need for their standardisation to curb confusion for both suppliers and distributor

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses the complexity of UK Oil Storage Regulations and the pressing need for their standardisation to curb confusion for both suppliers and distributors

Oil Storage Regulations are part of the devolved legislative framework within the UK. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England each have separate regulations that suppliers and distributors throughout the UK must abide by; these individual regulations can cause confusion and enforcement difficulties. In many instances companies may be inadvertently breaching Oil Storage Regulations, thereby putting the health and safety of individuals at risk, as well as placing the organisation at danger of heavy penalties.

When in fact, the stark reality may be that the organisation believes it is operating within the law, although the laws they are operating within, may actually be for a different country.

It is because of this confusion and a lack of consistency that members of the BSIF wish to see a standardisation of the Oil Storage Regulations within the UK (similar to the Health and Safety regulations). This standardisation would: avoid local confusion within industrial organisations that trade throughout the UK, avoid adverse health and safety effects locally and prevent the adverse impacts of local variations by insurers and the application of variable insurance expectations and premiums.

Due to the lack of conformity within UK regulations, the differences between countries have the potential to cause significant confusion. For example, in Scotland the regulations include indoor oil storage whereas the English regulations do not, in Northern Ireland the regulations include Oil Storage Depots whereas they are specifically excluded from the English and Scottish regulations, in Scotland the regulations include all waste oil while the English regulations only apply to certain waste oils such as cooking oil, and the Welsh regulations are still to be established so it is not known what will be included at this point in time.

The Federation is aware that some government departments are reluctant to propose amendments to the 'local' assemblies or Ministers, unless there is clear evidence that standardisation of these regulations would show a cost benefit to industry or a significant benefit to the environment, with the assumption that any health and safety aspects are 'not their responsibility'.

Unfortunately there is little motivation for the average industrial company using moderate amounts of process oils and petrochemicals to comply with these regulations as, although penalties are extreme, the likelihood of being caught is minimal. At present, responses from industrial organisations often take the view that "it does not really matter as I am unlikely to get caught".

Additionally many industrial organisations believe that they are insured for environmental risks in the same way as they are for health and safety risks and whilst this is not always accurate there is a belief that "providing I am acting responsibly in 'my' terms there is not really a problem because the insurer will pay the bill." To help curb these beliefs, standardisation of the UK Oil Storage Regulations would help enforce a more stringent law that can be policed consistently throughout the UK.

All together now The Federation believes that from a cost-management basis the argument for harmonisation of the regulations is strong. For example industrial companies storing oil need to act differently in all countries (Scotland, England and Northern Ireland). If the organisation carries out multi-branch operations in all three administrations, this will naturally create management procedure variations which, by the fact of the differences, will cause confusion, possible lack of compliance and potentially adoption of the lowest common denominator.

From a legislative perspective, the BSIF deems that it is questionable whether an English or Scottish oil storage depot will take account of its responsibilities in the same manner as a storage depot in Northern Ireland, simply because of the different regulations. Harmonised regulations would also allow a more cohesive and rigorous approach to industry monitoring, hence the true nature of personal accidents and injuries could be discovered.

Whilst the oil storage regulations are about preventing leaks and spills, when these do occur they will need to be dealt with and in most instances it will be people dealing with them. By the very nature of this task, people are at risk, however, these dangers can be minimised if sensible storage precautions are taken. With the current regulations, there are a number of potential problems where contact contamination could arise as well as potential for injury through 'slips and trips'. An example is the potential increase in unreported spills of waste oil in England (where certain waste oils are not within the scope of the regulations) and the possible rise in spills in oil storage depots in England and Scotland (where oil storage depots are not within the scope of the regulations).

Without doubt the regional variations of these regulations are confusing, standardised Oil Storage Regulations throughout the UK and indeed Europe would facilitate better practice for suppliers and distributors, as well as allowing them to provide superior advice to end users.