The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is an independent regulator, and has responsibility for regulatory oversight of the storage of ammonium nitrate (AN) at sites where it is the enforcing authority. The matters raised are primarily regulatory and operational matters and I encourage the Rt Hon colleague to contact HSE at Chief.Executive@hse.gov.uk to discuss any particular matters of concern.
As you may expect the storage of AN is subject to a robust regulatory framework, which considers the hazards posed by storage, product safety and measures to deal with emergencies. Sites storing the quantities of AN reported to have been involved in the tragic incident in Beirut would be subject to the provisions of the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations (COMAH) in the UK. All COMAH sites have a plan which sets out interventions with the site including inspections. Sites are subject to proportionate, targeted intervention, in line with the Competent Authority (HSE and Environmental Agencies) approach to the regulation of COMAH sites.
Prior to incident in Beirut, all COMAH sites storing AN had been visited during the previous 6 years, in line with the intervention plans. Following the incident HSE has reviewed its last interventions with those sites and considered any appropriate changes to the planned interventions. As a result of this review inspections were undertaken to two sites where the last intervention was over 5 years ago. The outcomes from these inspections identified that the arrangements for the storage of AN were appropriate. It should be noted that it is often the case that organisations may operate more than one COMAH site and so interventions at one site offer the opportunity to assess an organisations general approach and identify areas for improvement which can then be implemented across the organisation.
There is one COMAH site in Great Yarmouth, currently operated by Origin UK Operations Limited. The site notified HSE that they intended to store COMAH qualifying quantities of AN in August 2018. HSE is scheduled to undertake an inspection of the current dutyholder at this site as part of this year’s work plan. Prior to 2018 the site was operated by another dutyholder. HSE inspected the site in 2015 and verified that the ammonium nitrate storage conditions were appropriate. Between 2015 and 2018 AN was not stored in COMAH qualifying quantities at the site.
All sites storing COMAH qualifying quantities of AN fertiliser have to first gain Hazardous Substance Consent (HSC) from the Local Planning Authority. This process involves consultation with HSE to consider whether the site is suitable, taking into account risks to local people. HSE has recently reviewed all sites where such Hazardous Substances Consent (HSC) has been granted, but where no notification has been made under the provisions of the COMAH Regulations. HSE is contacting these sites to establish their current status to provide assurance that all regulatory provisions are being met.