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Buncefield Explosion

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 13 July 2006

The independent Major Incident Investigation Board—appointed by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to supervise the investigation into the explosions and fires at the Buncefield oil storage depot, Hemel Hempstead, on 11 December 2005—will today publish its initial report. The report has been received by the HSC and the board of the Environment Agency who have endorsed its publication. Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of each House.

The report indicates that good progress has been made in identifying the root causes of the Buncefield incident. This is in spite of the widespread damage to forensic evidence caused by the explosions and fires, and the dangers posed by the site to the investigation teams until well after the incident. The investigation board considers that enough is known to set out with reasonable confidence the sequence of events leading to the incident, though uncertainty remains about why the explosion was so violent.

It is of paramount importance to ensure that all the lessons of Buncefield are learnt to prevent recurrence of such an incident, and to ensure the maximum effectiveness of emergency arrangements if an incident does occur. The board's initial report identifies several areas of concern, while noting the extent of the work already underway to address them. In particular, the board welcomes the post-Buncefield programme of inspections being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency as the competent authority regulating Buncefield. The safety alerts issued on matters of immediate concern, and the industry-chaired task group convened by the competent authority to review the results of these initiatives, are also noted. The board makes clear that it intends to focus on several broad areas of concern, and pay close attention to the preliminary conclusions from the different strands of work as they emerge.

The board also draws attention to the process of incremental development around Buncefield and expresses an interest in the cross-government work addressing the implications of new information about major hazard sites recently gathered by HSE. This work has been underway since before the Buncefield incident, but will take account of information and analysis arising from the investigation. Once clear conclusions emerge, the work will be the subject of consultation with stakeholders. Information about this was set out in a previous parliamentary Statement on the 15 May.

The investigation is continuing. Many people, not least the local residents and businesses directly affected by the incident, need answers to resolve the uncertainties caused by Buncefield. The investigation board is keenly aware of their needs, while ensuring the investigation is thorough and fully considers the implications of its findings. The board is also conscious that in doing so it must not prejudice any future criminal proceedings, should it be decided that there be grounds to pursue them. The HSC and Environment Agency are now considering the initial report and the board's early conclusions, and will ensure that actions identified are taken forward without delay.