Plant safety

Plant safety and industrial-accident prevention measures aim first and foremost to prevent accidents at plants where hazardous substances are used – and in the event of an accident, minimize the consequent health and environmental effects. At the UBA, all such measures are based on the principle of sustainable production processes.

In the interest of promoting plant safety, we conduct our own research, support Ministry of the Environment research, and assist with the process of putting the findings of such research into practice. We are also active participants in commissions that promulgate rules and regulations. Moreover, we document and analyze industrial accidents in Germany and elsewhere with the goal of avoiding future accidents or at least keeping them to a minimum.

German, European and international plant safety requirements

Inasmuch as plant safety requirements are largely based on laws and standards, we are actively involved in (a) the elaboration and optimization of laws and standards; and (b) supporting and improving their application in practice.
Following is a brief discussion of Germany’s main plant safety regulations.

Federal Immission Control Act (Bundes-Immissionsschutzgesetz)

This law lays down the requirements concerning the construction, quality, and operation of industrial installations that could potentially provoke environmental harm and other hazards due to accidents or incidents. The most important legal principle laid down by the Act is the duty to adhere to the state of the art. The Act distinguishes between plants whose construction and operation do not require a permit and are merely required to avoid and minimize environmental degradation, and plants that are required to obtain a construction and operation permit and for which “other hazards” are relevant.

The EU Seveso Directive and the German Hazardous Incident Regulation (Störfall-Verordnung)

Operators handling dangerous substances above certain thresholds are subject to the EU’s Seveso II Directive, which also applies to installations that are presumed to use such substances in an industrial chemical process that could potentially go out of control. In Germany, the Seveso II Directive was mainly implemented via the Hazardous Incident Regulation (Störfall-Verordnung, StörfallV; full name: Zwölfte Verordnung zum Bundes-Immissionsschutzgesetz (12. BImSchV)). It lays down regulations concerning the construction, quality and operations for various types of plant elements. For example, the law requires plant operators to conform with the state of the art in safety engineering, to use a safety management system, and to elaborate and apply an accident prevention plan. Larger plant elements are subject to more stringent requirements such as submitting safety reports and elaborating alarm and hazard prevent plans.
The new Seveso III Directive is slated to be transposed into German law by 31 May 2015.

Water Resources Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz)

Plants that handle substances that are hazardous to water are subject to requirements as regards construction, quality, maintenance, operation, and decommissioning, pursuant to Article 62(f) of the Act. Such installations must be constructed, operated and decommissioned in accordance with the generally accepted state of the art. The Act’s stipulations are fleshed out in greater detail in a federal regulation.

Environmental Impact Assessment Act (Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfungsgesetz)

Certain types of pipelines are subject to a plan/project approval procedure pursuant to Article 20 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. Germany’s pipeline regulations (Rohrfernleitungsverordnung, Technische Regel Rohrfernleitungen) flesh out the requirements that pipelines must meet in terms of construction, quality and operation. It is essential that they also conform with the state of the art.

The UBA and official bodies

A host of German, European and international bodies concerns themselves with the following in the field of plant safety: optimization of principles, technical rules and the state of scientific knowledge; promoting implementation.
On the international stage, one of the UBA’s main focuses is the OECD chemical accident working group and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)’s working group for implementation and optimization of the industrial accident convention.
Our main industrial safety focus in Europe is on the Seveso Directive, whose implementation is being supported by a standing committee of the member states to whose work we also contribute.
In Germany, the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) receives industrial safety-related support from a special advisory panel that was set up pursuant to Article 15 of the Federal Immission Control Act (BimSchG). A pipeline commission (Ausschuss für Rohrfernleitungen (AfR)) was set up pursuant to Article 9 of the Pipeline Regulation (Rohrfernleitungsverordnung) as an advisory panel to the BMU. An emissions avoidance and accident prevention committee known as Allgemeiner Immissionsschutz/Störfallvorsorge (AISV), which is under the aegis of a regional-state/federal organization known as Bund/Länder-Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Immissionsschutz (LAI), concerns itself with matters such as nationwide implementation of federal work safety regulations by the authorizing bodies of the regional states. A similar role is played by a joint regional-state/federal working group called Umgang mit wassergefährdenden Stoffen that deals with substances that are hazardous to water. We are actively involved in the work of both of these organisms. We are also members of various committees and working groups that engage in activities such as elaborating technical rules and standards and promoting the implementation of legal regulations.

Overarching technical subjects

Various technical domains are invariably of importance when it comes to plant safety, notwithstanding the fact that they are addressed differently in the various applicable regulations.

State of the art technology; state of the art safety technology

Article 3(6) of the Federal Immission Control Act (BimSchG) defines state of the art technology as follows:

“State of the art technology shall mean the state of development comprising advanced processes, facilities, and operating methods that enable a given measure [...] to achieve plant safety [...] with the goal of avoiding or minimizing environmental effects and that appear to have the capacity to ensure that a high level of protection will be obtained in all domains [...]”

Article 2(5) of the Act states as follows: “State of the art safety technology [shall mean] the state of development comprising advanced processes, facilities, and operating methods that appear to have the capacity to reliably prevent accidents or limit their effect. […]”

Here at the UBA, we seek ways to flesh out and optimize these basic requirements in connection with the following:

  1. Avoiding operator errors.
  2. Preventing access by unauthorized third parties.
  3. Natural hazards that are intrinsic to their surroundings.

Organizational structures for safety measures

Apart from the human and technological factors, the organizational structure for safety measures also plays a major role when it comes to plant safety. Under German law, safety management systems are required to integrate the following elements: an organizational structure; spheres of responsibility; actions; procedures; processes; and resources. Such organizational structures are required to promote the following: high quality in terms of establishment, operation, change, maintenance, monitoring and emergency planning; accident prevention; and limiting the negative effects of accidents. At the UBA, we have established support resources that can be used to promote effective safety management.

Risk communication

In view of the supreme health and environmental importance of competent risk and hazard communication before, during and after an accident or incident, we have conducted research on communication processes for accidents and have created entities that can provide assistance in such situations.

Accident Reporting and Assessment Unit (ZEMA)

Our Accident Reporting and Assessment Unit (ZEMA) documents, assesses and publicizes in a database and annual reports all accidents and incidents that are subject to statutory reporting requirements. The goal here is to lay the groundwork for optimization of the state of the art in the field of safety technology.