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Brussels, 21 December 2010

Commission strengthens legislation on safety at European chemical plants

The European Commission today presented draft legislation to strengthen rules on the control of major accident hazards involving chemicals. The revision of the so-called Seveso II Directive will align the legislation to changes in EU chemicals law and will clarify and update other provisions. This includes introducing stricter inspection standards and improving the level and quality of information available to the public in the event of an accident. The new Directive should apply from 1 June 2015.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “The Seveso II Directive has been instrumental in reducing the likelihood and consequences of chemical accidents. However, such accidents still occur and can often have devastating effects. We cannot compromise with safety. This is why the proposed new rules will further strengthen legislation in this area and ensure the necessary high levels of protection."

The review was prompted by the adoption of rules to align the EU classification system to the UN Globally Harmonised System. It will ensure that the same hazards are described and labelled in the same way all around the world.

Other important changes proposed include stronger provisions relating to public access to safety information, participation in decision-making and access to justice, and improvements to the way information is collected, managed, made available and shared. The proposal also introduces stricter standards for inspections of installations to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of safety rules.

The remaining changes are technical modifications including simplifications to reduce unnecessary administrative burdens. The revision should maintain and improve current levels of protection without significantly affecting costs.

The proposed new Directive follows a review process that included stakeholder consultation and various studies on the effectiveness of existing rules and the impact of possible options for improvements.

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The Seveso II Directive and its predecessor, Seveso I, were prompted by a major accident at a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy, in 1976. The legislation aims to prevent accidents involving large quantities of hazardous substances and applies to around 10,000 industrial establishments in the EU. There is a tiered approach to the level of controls, with larger quantities of chemicals subject to stricter rules. Under the Directive, operators of establishments where hazardous substances are present must notify their activities and establish a major accident prevention policy. Operators of 'upper tier' establishments must also establish a safety report and put a safety management system and an internal emergency plan in place. There are also obligations on public authorities relating to external emergency plans and public information on safety measures for upper-tier establishments, domino effects, land-use planning, accident reporting and inspections.

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