Explosion risk stymies waste recycling plant

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concerns have persuaded an inspector to refuse permission for a planned waste recycling facility in the West Midlands due to the unacceptable risk to human life.

The site lay next to a fuel storage depot. A similar scheme had previously been approved in 2007, but had not been implemented.

The HSE explained that its advice to planning authorities had changed following the explosion at the Buncefield fuel terminal in Hemel Hempstead in 2005. It now advised that no new building should be allowed within 150 metres of bunds surrounding petrol tanks. Since the appeal site was unable to meet this requirement, the HSE warned of an unacceptable risk to workers at the waste plant and to surrounding property.

The appellant proposed to operate round the clock, with an operator and assistant on each shift and a maximum of four drivers on site at any one time. He asserted that a Buncefield-type explosion was unlikely, since that incident was caused by an unfortunate coincidence of events and errors. He also argued that the facility would deal primarily with wet waste, limiting the opportunity for a fire breaking out.

However, the inspector said that the HSE advice should be given substantial weight in ensuring that new developments were built at a sufficient distance to protect workers in the event of an explosion. He judged that this risk could only be fully eliminated if the tanks were placed underground, which was not feasible.

Inspector: Alan Wood; Hearing

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