The full edition of July’s containment news is available here with all of the news, stories, and live links: *Containment News July 2015 PDF Version*
‘Pollution Prevention Guidlines’
When driving near a school in wet conditions anyone with double digit brain cells will not require flashing speed restriction signs to make them slow down, and the reason for caution will having nothing to do with the risk of a £100 fine. This is of course due to basic common sense and decades of graphic road safety campaigns.
Unfortunately the same level of educational campaigns have never been budgeted for when it comes to environmental pollution. ‘Ignorance is no defence’ is something often quoted in relation to pollution, however, when successive governments seem to be increasingly distancing themselves from laying down specific regulations and guidelines for industry it’s a defence that will undoubtedly carry some credibility. This is especially true when the government’s own website now states “the Environment Agency no longer provides ‘good practice’ guidance”. The PPGs (Pollution Prevention Guidelines) were by no means perfect but they were a good solid foundation for industry to work from and periodic consultations kept them current and relevant. The government seems to be hoping that conscientious companies will spontaneously band together for the greater good to write their own set of guidelines in a form of unofficial self-regulation. Whilst there is no doubt that industry is best placed to know, based on first-hand experience how to protect itself from spills and firewater incidents it seems unlikely that corporations will suddenly switch to an altruistic commune mentality. Without any concerted effort by the government and her environment agencies to coordinate or at the very least initiate consultation on good practice it seems that it will require a mainland spill on the scale of Buncefield before this issue is given the priority that it deserves.
My personal conspiracy theory is that the authorities are frightened of stipulating specific requirements for industry to follow because in the event of an incident a business that could prove that it had ticked every required box would then be virtually bullet-proof from prosecution and could even hold the government responsible for any shortfall in insurance payout or lost production. Maybe this is driven by the nightmare scenario of yet another new claims industry springing up, ‘have you had a spill or firewater incident that wasn’t your fault, have you been mis-sold site containment products by the government’.
I’ve been told by numerous sites that an inspection from one of the environment agencies will highlight areas of concern without giving any clear advice on exactly what action they should take. I understand that for many reasons that government agencies cannot recommend specific companies or products, but leaving industry to read between the lines and rely on Google to source containment solutions is far too hit and miss. This task is made even more daunting because containment options encompass everything from a glorified draft excluder to place around a drain, through to full site bunding and automated in-drain locking valves.
Imagine taking your car in for an MOT and being told that you need to ‘do something’ because your vehicle is not safe without being given specific details about what repairs need to be carried out? The essential validity of ‘ignorance is no defence’ is being severely diluted by a lack of guidance, exacerbated by budgetary cuts which are drastically reducing the vital educational role of the environment agencies. This lack of clarity is dangerous and irresponsible, especially in view of recent comments by Court of Appeal judges warning that in the “worst cases fines could be in excess of £100 million/100% of companies’ pre-tax profit”.
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Containment News July 2015