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Dangerous Substances

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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3.50 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the application of industrial hazard regulations to include all sites containing potentially dangerous substances; and for connected purposes.
First, I should declare an interest as president of the Association of Scientific, Technological and Managerial Staffs. This will be the last ten-minute Bill that will be presented before the Dissolution of Parliament. Nevertheless, it is an important measure.

My Bill would extend the role of the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984. At the moment those regulations cover only 200 sites. Some 1,300 sites are not covered by those regulations, but they are covered by the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Substances Regulations 1982. The difference between those regulations is that the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Regulations are much weaker. For instance, they do not include controls on the handling of dangerous substances. There is no requirement on them to draw up, on site or off, emergency plans concerning the public. Indeed, there is no requirement for them to inform the public as to what steps they should take during an emergency. It is only recently that the operators were required to notify the Health and Safety Executive, but thanks to pressure from the trade unions and the environmental lobby, operators can no longer keep them secret; they must reveal them, Even so, the public are not made aware of them.

If the regulations could be brought within the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984, operators would be required to do the following. They would be required to produce on-site and off-site emergency plans, provide information to members of the public about what to do if an emergency occurs and convince the Health and Safety Executive that the plant they operate is being run safely. Those requirements are good so far as they go, but they could be better. It is certainly an improvement on the other requirements. The effect of the regulations applies only to the larger plants that are handling chemicals in very large quantities. The other quantities that are being handled by smaller plants are just as dangerous but at the moment they are escaping these regulations. For instance, incidents involving liquefied petroleum gas, which is better known as calor gas, or half a ton of chlorine may be just as dangerous as incidents where chemicals are being handled in far larger quantities in major plants. My Bill would include the other 1,200 sites that are handling these dangerous chemicals.

The extension of the CIMAH regulations will have one further effect. It will reverse the Government's policy of reducing the numbers of Health and Safety inspectors. The Government have only just removed the ban on the recruitment of inspectors. That is disgraceful and callous, and shows an uncaring policy.

Another difficulty with regard to the Health and Safety Inspectorate is that their remuneration is pitched far too low at the moment, so there is a difficulty in recruitment. I hope that the increase that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants has applied for will be received favourably because it will increase remuneration and make it easier to recruit inspectors. There is a need for them. They are interested not only in remuneration but in health and safety. Indeed, there is a great demand for that. Having fewer inspectors means that health and safety is going by the board. It is difficult to do a job and improve health and safety when at the same time we have a Government committed to deregulation and Victorian values.

In his recent report, the chief safety inspector said:
"There is a disquieting increase in industrial accidents".
That is especially true of the chemical industry, for which the fatal and major accident rate has risen from 77·1 per 100,000 employees in 1981 to 104·3 per 100,000 employees in 1986. That represents an increase of 35 per cent. in the past five years. That means that human blood has been spilled on the floor of chemical plants and that is due to the cut in the number of health and safety inspectors that has occurred since the Government took office.

Recently there have been three major accidents. The BP Grangemouth explosions caused the death of three people. Houses 20 miles away were shaken by the explosions and people telephoned the emergency services in the belief that an earthquake had taken place. There was a serious fire at the Coalite plant — a matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has frequently raised in the House. We discovered that, at that plant, dioxin was still stocked despite the fact that the company had said that it had got rid of it in 1968.

I bow to my hon. Friend's superior knowledge.

The plant had claimed that it had got rid of its stores of dioxin in 1978, but that was not so. There was also a major fire at ICI Billingham, which killed one person.

If that is the state of affairs at major sites, one shudders to think what health and safety conditions are like at smaller sites; that is why I wish to bring those sites within the remit of my Bill.

If my Bill is implemented it will lead to the recruitment of extra factory inspectors. It will also lead to greater safety and protection not only for the people working on the sites but for the public. I believe that, unless something is done and such measures are adopted, sooner or later we shall have a British Bhopal.

I believe that the public have a right to know whether they are sitting on a time bomb. For that reason, I have introduced this Bill. I realise that, as it has been introduced so late, we shall not make much progress. However, with the general election on the way, I believe that the public have a right to know about such matters. Health and safety should be one of the major election issues. I hope that I shall obtain leave to bring in this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Dr. M. S. Miller, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Stan Thorne, Mr. Stan Crowther and Mr. Richard Caborn.