HSE runs the risk of lowering standards: harmonisation of European standards is proving a health risk as draft regulations permitting the use of inferior ADR HIN in favour of Hazchem have been published despite emergency services' protests. The authors argue that in ignoring pleas the HSE is undermining a proven, sale system of work which could lead to disasters such as the major chemical incident described here.(HAZMAT)(Hazard Identification Number)

On September 1, 2004, firefighters called to an overturned chemical tanker could not take immediate action to avert major environmental damage and protect the public because the marking plate on the vehicle did not give firefighters the information they needed to deal quickly with the incident. Delays happened because the tanker was marked with a code that only told firefighters what the chemical risks were and not what action to take.

The transport operating company had chosen to mark the tanker with the Hazard Identification Number (HIN) used in the European ADR Agreements, as allowed under new UK legislation brought in earlier this year. Everyone in the emergency services and many in the chemical industry believe the HIN system to be inferior to the alternative Emergency Action Code (EAC) system formally required under UK Regulations.

Local residents believe that they were put at risk and substantial environmental damage was caused as a direct result of the delays. It is likely that a public inquiry will be held into the accident and its consequences.

A Fire Service spokesperson said: "Had the former EAC been used the Fire Service would have been able to take immediate action on arrival and the severity of the incident could have been reduced substantially. Because of the marking plate being used we had to wait to get further information from our control room before we could take positive action to deal with the spillage". …

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