A Case Study of Buncefield Explosion


The Buncefield was the fifth largest oil production depot in the UK. It was jointly owned by Texaco and Total UK limited. It had the capacity to hold up to sixty million fuel gallons. After the occurrence of what was perceived to be an explosion of fuel-air of extraordinary strength, twenty big storage tanks were consumed by a great inferno. It has been approximated that 41 minutes immediately after the failure of the switch of high level that was designed to block the flow of fuel, 310 tonnes of fuel was free to spill through the vents of the roof and some would have moved down into the first tank located on the ground in a wall of bund. It immediately formed a vapor rich in fuel-air (Niknezhad, 2017). The survey body of British geological gave a report on the number of people registered on the Richter scale. An important theory that comes out of this incident is the deciduous trees rows that possibly could have played a major role in the propagation of the flame front to the extent that its pressure wave resulted into the remaining fuel detonation. High thermal energy originating from the incident mixed up with settled weather and this created plume of high buoyancy that later made ways into several counties. For less than 24 hours it was reported that the effect had already reached northern France, with high expectations of reaching Spain in less than a week. Particles of soot were established to be key components of the cloud, with decreased levels of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and ozone (Paltrinieri et al., 2012).

The roles and functions of occupational health and safety management systems

OHSMS has been established to ensure that safety standards and health are well maintained in the working area. This facilitates continuous improvement in health and safety compliance standards and policies. OHSMS promotes a secured work environment that shields workers from unnecessary accidents in the workplace. Roles and functions of OHSMS include the following:


Incidents investigation: OHSMS helps in conducting a rigorous investigation on incidents that assists in unmasking the immediate root causes of conditions that are perceived to be unsafe. It also establishes mechanisms that help in preventing future occurrence of such similar incidents. The safety regulation and occupational health outline specific necessities for documentation of incident investigation and reporting that must be met by all employers (Shin, 2013).

Safety and health training: Every person in the workplace from frontline workers to senior management should understand their mandate when it comes to the implementation and maintenance of a safe and healthy place of work. Management system establishes policies that continuously drive important programs. It ensures that workers are well trained, competent and qualified to partake and perform tasks assigned to them. OHSMS also ensures that adequate instructions and oversight are provided to all workers to enable them to perform their tasks safely. Workers should work safely in strict conformity to instructions and training (Murrugo et al., 2017).

Measuring performance: Occupational Health and Safety Management system assist in monitoring and evaluating health and safety performance. In order to reveal where and when improvement is needed, performance is measured against accepted standards. Active Self-examining shows how ideal health and safety system of management is operating. self-monitoring considers both software (procedure, system and people, including performance and behaviour of an individual) and hardware (plant, substances and premises). In any case, there is controls failure, reactive monitoring carries out an investigation on accidents, ill incidents or health to find out the possible cause of loss or harm (Kania & Spilka 2016).

Planning: OHSMS formulates a plan meant for fulfilling health and safety policies enshrined in the statement of safety. Effective arrangements and management structure are put in place to facilitate policy delivery. Health and safety objectives are set for all employees and managers.

Commitment and policy: OHSM prepare health and occupational safety policy programme, which is considered as part of the safety statement preparation needed by section 20 of the Health, welfare, and safety at work 2005 Act. Effective health and safety policies put a clear guideline to be followed. OHSM play a major role in all aspect of organisation performance as a way of demonstrating a commitment to consistent improvement (Wiengarten et al., 2017). Duties and responsibilities to the working environment and people are met in a manner that fulfils the letter and spirit of the law. Economical approaches to developing and preserving physical and human resources cut-down financial liabilities and losses. In a larger context, expectations of stakeholders, whether they are employees, stakeholders or representatives, can be met.

Operation and implementation: In order to facilitate effective implementation, OHSM develops support and capabilities mechanisms that are essential requirements for achieving health and safety policies, targets, and objectives. All staff members should therefore, be inspired and motivated to operate safely and shield their health to avoid accidents. All these arrangements involve:

Effective Participation and involvement of staff through extensive consultation, application of the system of safety representation and safety committee, sustained by appropriate communication and competence promotion which allow representatives and employees to make an informed and responsible contribution to the health and safety effort. OHSMS also put in place a well-defined systematic and planned approach to facilitate the implementation of the health and safety policy, this helps in minimising risks. Methods of risks assessment are used to set objectives and to determine priorities to curb hazards hence reduce risks. Where possible, risks are eliminated through design and selection of equipment, processes and facilities (Hemphil & Kelly 2016). If the risks are impossible to eliminate then they are reduced by the application of safe systems and physical controls of war. Alternatively, the provision of PPE can be considered as a last resort. Standards of performance should be set up and applied in achieving measurement.

Provision of written instructions and procedures of safe work: Practices and procedures of safe work ensure that every person in the organisation knows his or her responsibilities and therefore can effectively perform assigned duties. A safe work procedure is well outlined in all organizational level. For instance, the procedure followed when conducting a risk assessment and how to properly lock out on worker level (Lafuente & Abad 2018).

Comparing differences between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001

ISO 45001 approaches risk control in a proactive manner starting with the incorporation of safety and health in the overall organization's management system and this inspires the top management to acquire a stronger role of leadership in the health and safety program. On the other hand, OHSAS 18001 consider a proactive tackle of hazard control through hazard control mandates to safety management experts instead of integration of responsibilities into the company's overall management system (Kauppila et al., 2015). Studying differences between the two programs is significantly important for the employer as they explore possibilities of the organization. Below are major differences:

First, in ISO 45001 manages both opportunities and risk while OHSAS only focuses on risks. ISO outlines the importance of following up the opportunities that could possibly arise out from the identification of hazard and assessment of risk to facilitate the improvement of the management system. The purpose of risk evaluation is to assess the hazard that emerges in organization course activities (Domingues et al., 2016). It ensures that any form of risk arising from the hazards is evaluated, controlled, and prioritized to curb hazards or cut down risk to levels that are acceptable.

In OHSAS 18001 the interested parties are well listed however, it fails to examine identification and requirements of the parties that are interested and their expectations and needs, on the other hand, ISO 45001 tend to differentiate all workers from the other parties of interest so as to reinforce their importance. It therefore clearly defines the expectations and needs of the workers and other parties that are interested. Hazards have the abilities to cause ill health or injuries. They should be determined before the risk linked with these hazards is examined. Appropriate controls should be reinforced according to controls hierarchy (Kleinova &Szaryszova, 2014).

In ISO 45001, ownership of management and commitment to OH&S of the organization is central to the effectiveness and integration of standards. Unlike OHSAS 18001, that assigns a task to safety individuals. ISO 45001 would need the incorporation of safety and health in the overall organization's system of management, thereby pushing top management to acquire a powerful role in the health and safety program. The organization's culture of safety will be backed up by managing engagement with employees and demonstrated by earnest emphasis. Management would demonstrate true safety leadership rather than providing program oversight. Workers protection and performance improvement are major roles of true leadership under the new ISO 45001 (Denny & Clubley, 2019).

ISO 45001 follows a preventive based process that calls for an evaluation of hazard risks while OHSAS 18001 follows a procedure-based process whereby organisations are put under strict conditions to identify and determine hazard risks that are potential in nature before they lead to injuries and accidents.

ISO 45001 uses high-level structure while OHSAS 18001 does not employ the high-level structure. HLS is a bunch of clauses that the management system of ISO standards and are required to be applied in future. This will apply to all standards of management system that will acquire similar feel and look, and will also allow for larger integration amidst systems of a different kind (Oppong, 2014). The HLS applies core text, which is present in every standard of the management system and the contextualized text that is added according to the purpose of the management system whether it's Environment, OHS, Quality or another discipline.

Another difference between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 is the fact that certification in OHSAS 18001 is a necessity of standards while certification in ISO 45001 is not a necessity of standard. It's is important to note that certification of ISO 45001 is very critical to demonstrate that all listed criteria has been met (Duong et al., 2012).

Lastly, in both ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001 there are similar requirements with regard to high-rank management. However, according to ISO it is not allowed for the organization to make an appointment of the top management member who will be accountable for the management system of OH&S. In addition, the necessities for the OH&S policy are detailed in ISO 45001.

Evaluation of evidence available regarding the use of management systems, particularly on how they will prevent a future incident of this type from occurring

The management system has introduced major changes since the occurrence of the incident, High leadership standards had been introduced as an effective way to control major hazardous risks. As such, a series of core principles have been established by the leadership group of process safety used in defining the resources and organization required for a change into practice. This is seen as a great regulator's achievement. The trade unions and other industries are equally working together to curb reoccurrence of such an incident. A board of major incident investigation has been established to assist in investigation (Bloomfield et al., 2009).

Effective communication has been put in place during an emergency in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life and time wastage. Individual responding to the emergency must liaise with the relevant local authorities and public agencies. The incident of Buncefield shows how important is for the emergency services and local authorities to work together during such an incident. Failure to corporate with the local authorities leads to missing essential information that can significantly assist in managing the occurrence of the next incident (Elliot, 2010). In the Buncefield, a lot of incidents were captured where communication between the central government and the SCG was untimely and inefficient. This was due to the challenge faced in financing the role of relative novelty and the fact that information was channeled to the department of the government through the GLO, unfortunately, this was not observed with regards to the information flowing down to the strategic combination group from the department of the government. Whenever information was requested by the SCG it was delivered through the GLO, however, when the information was requested from it directly, the information was either not forthcoming or the response was too slow. Evidently, the management system has emphasized on the importance of communication by enhancing it through communication and media plan preparation. This plan has been implemented to curb any possible hazardous risk from occurring (Reniers et al., 2009).

The incident at the Bucefield acted as a catalyst for transformation in the process safety and quite a number of lessons learned from the incident have assisted in making the industry for large liquid storage safer. The management system has identified the need for process safety competence and working knowledge at the board level. A clear policy based on PSM that runs from the top and well comprehended by every person throughout the organization has also been implemented (Li et al., 2018). Appropriate safety requires a continuous active engagement in all areas and involves both contract and direct staff. The area of tank storage has been well represented on a number of regulator safety and senior industrial forums. The management system provides leadership of process safety and cultivates a good safety culture in conjunction with the environment and health team. Process and occupational safety are two distinguishable discipline, success and effective management of one do not guarantee success in another.

Public agencies have been established to assist before, prior to or during the incident. These public agencies include transportation agencies, the health department, and federal agencies. The roles played varies from removing debris, emergency medical care, relaying information among others. The role of these public agencies during, before or after is to consistently carry out the common activities in strict conformity to the development policy, assessment of public health and assurances functions. Professionals of public health have a significant role both in the intermediate and before the aftermath of any given incident such as Buncefield. Emergencies in most cases should be treated immediately to reduce the risk that can result in disabilities or facilities of the victims (Denny & Clubley, 2019). The public health is the most important public agency and without it, all emergencies would be rendered impossible. Engineering and public works are also required to bring back services of the public to the state. Firefighters are important for the suppression of explosion and inferno as they happen. Medical and health services are imperative in the provision of public health and medical care needs.

ICS is an important method of curbing accidents, disasters, and incidents with a high success rate in several types of incidents. ICS has been designed to be interdisciplinary and organisationally flexible in nature. ICS has constantly proven to be effective in reacting to different forms of hazards. The benefits that have been realized in ICS are massive. As the team of the national response state, the form in which the ICS has been critical, the agencies gain largely. For instance, ICS assists in getting rid of duplicate efforts due to the structure of command in a place full of several commands’ levels. The ICS outlines the responsibilities and functions of reducing the most probable conflict that may crop up as well as facilitating information flow amidst all participating agencies (Venart, 2011).

ICS put into use the culture of common response and language which assist in optimizing the joint effort. It allows for collective approval of logistics, planning, finance and operation activities. It fosters for an environment of a cooperative response thereby saving on time. A number of different reasons explain why ICS would prove important to the disaster in large scale such as Buncefield (Elliot, 2010). ICS contributes largely to the overall utilization of resources this is owing to the fact that the system is designed with constant maintenance of control span. There is also a proper plan for efficient protocols of resource management. All these effective features enhance the proper functioning of the system. Lastly, ICS can be very effective in dealing with incidents of any size. The incident can be as large as earthquake but still the ICS will be applicable.


In summary, it's evident that an extensive investigation into this major incident offers a good opportunity that can be used by the regulator to evaluate the whole process of managerial involved at a specific site. It's imperative to learn lessons when such opportunities arise.in the incident of Buncefield, the inoperable switch of high level and sticking gauges story inform us about the immediate triggers of the incident. The underlying management failings by other individuals were however essential and contain larger implications in all hazard industries. These failures contain the mitigation process and the incident causes (Ceranna et al., 2009). Rigorous research on these managerial failures emphasises on recommendations that were made by the MIIB. It's however worth reinforcing some issues in regard to the incident of Buncefield: the process of controlling safety on critical operations of safety was not maintained to expected set standards; senior makers failed to employ effective control; systems of effective auditing were equally not put in place. Monitoring and auditing arrangements aimed at whether the system was put in place. The audit failed to test the system quality and most importantly, failure to check whether they were effective or being used.

Secondly, the incident of Buncefield had demonstrated that the expected high standards of safety equipment operators equally apply to all operators and the people involved in the equipment supply. At Buncefield the manufactures, installers, and designers did not have enough knowledge concerning the environment in which the equipment was to be applied (Mohana et al., 2012). Therefore, they were not in a position to make the right decision about the correct standards to be used to their work. In general, the installation, maintenance, and design of safety equipment was equally important as operation processing controls.

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