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Public to receive better data on major accident risks

23 January 2013

New rules will see EU citizens better informed about major hazard risks posed by industrial plants in their immediate vicinity.

New rules introduced by the European Commission will see EU citizens better informed about major threats posed by industrial plants in their immediate vicinity.

The rules - introduced on 13th August - are part of an otherwise technical update of the Seveso Directive, a key instrument in industrial risk management, which is being adapted to reflect recent changes in the international and European classification of chemicals. The Directive obliges member states to draw up emergency plans for areas surrounding industrial installations where very large quantities of dangerous substances are to be found.

Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Seveso III will mean better protection against major accidents for citizens and the environment. It will also mean that citizens are better informed, and more involved in land-use planning decisions."

In addition to the technical updates to take account of changes in EU chemicals classification, the main improvements for the public are:

•Better access to information about risks resulting from activities of nearby industrial installations, and about how to behave in the event of an accident; this will also increase confidence in the functioning of these companies
•More effective rules on participation, by the public concerned, in land-use planning projects related to Seveso plants
•Access to justice for members of the public who have not been granted appropriate access to information or participation
•Stricter standards for inspections of establishments to ensure more effective enforcement of safety rules.

From now on, public information about risks must be made available electronically. All establishments covered by the legislation will need to provide information about how alerts will be sounded, and about how the public should act in the event of a major accident.

When an accident happens, the relevant authorities will need to inform anyone likely to be affected by it and the main measures taken to address it. Changes to land-use planning laws will see the introduction of an appropriate "safety" distance in plans for new establishments and infrastructure near existing establishments.

Procedural requirements for public consultation on projects, plans and programmes have been tightened. When authorities and establishments assess major accident potentials and adopt measures to address this, they will need to take better account of potential increased risks due to the proximity with other industrial sites and potential repercussions on nearby installations.

Member States will have to apply these rules from 1 June 2015, which is also the date when the new chemicals classification legislation becomes fully applicable in Europe.

The Seveso legislation on the control of major-accident hazards dates back to 1982. It obliges Member States to ensure that all operators covered by the Directive have a policy in place to prevent major accidents.

HSE guidance on the implications of Seveso III can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/seveso/implications.htm