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The Joint Research Centre's Major Accident Hazards Bureau  

Support to chemical disaster risk reduction

JRC experts have provided support to European Commission and Member States in Seveso Directive implementation for over three decades, starting with preparations for the first Seveso Directive (Council Directive 82/501/EEC) authorized in 1982.  In 1996 the Major Accident Hazards Bureau was created in recognition of the ongoing support to chemical accident risk reduction in the European Union.With DG-Environment and DG-ECHO providing policy direction, the JRC contributes its competences to give technical advice and co-ordinate technical exchanges among Member State experts as input to EU policy and to support common approaches to implementation of Seveso obligations.  Experts in the analysis of chemical risks and accident lessons learned, the JRC also conducts research to support development of related tools for use in Seveso and other countries in managing chemical accident risks. 

As the European Commission’s scientific support to the Seveso Directive, the JRC’s Major Accident Hazards Bureau (MAHB), fulfills an important role in Europe by assisting operators and authorities in Europe in answering three related questions fundamental to reducing industrial risks and the consequences of industrial accidents:

  • Why do major industrial accidents continue to happen in Europe? What is causing them? Where should attention and resources continue to be focused to reduce industrial risks?

  • What is the possibility that a industrial accident could occur on a particular site what could happen if it does?

  • What is current best practice for managing industrial risks and preparing for and responding to accidents and how can one verify that they have been applied where and when they should be?

The JRC is uniquely positioned to contribute to the knowledgebase and support capacity building efforts both in and outside of Europe in industrial accident prevention and preparedness in Europe. One key advantage is that the JRC manages the eMARS major accident database, a collection of industrial accident reports, including all major industrial accidents reported to the JRC by Member States under the current and prior Seveso Directives since 1984. The eMARS database is one of only five open source lessons learned databases for industrial accidents in the world and covers the most diverse geographic area of all of them, including reports submitted by voluntary agreement by non-EU/EFTA members of the OECD and, starting 2013, UNECE. With this unique advantage MAHB’s research focuses on lessons learned studies to understand causes and trends in industrial accidents in the EU and worldwide as an aid to enforcement and monitoring national authorities and also as a general contribution to the study of industrial risks.

The EU Member States also rely on the JRC as a centre of reference for risk analysis of industrial accidents, in particular for benchmarking models and tools and for applications of risk assessment in specific locations and for general policy implementation. The prediction of industrial accident risks and their consequences is a field of great scientific complexity and in serving as a centre of exchange and comparison, the JRC provides Member States the means to evaluate and improve their technical approaches and policy strategies for designating land-use planning, emergency planning and public information zones. The JRC has developed its own area suite of risk assessment tools, of which the JRC ADAM consequent assessment model is the cornerstone, and through its collaborations with national authorities, industry and research organizations, the JRC will continue to be a net contributor to new knowledge in the area of industrial risk analysis.

Moreover, the JRC under the leadership of its Major Accident Hazards Bureau (MAHB), has long experience in good practice exchange and capacity building to establish good practice in risk governance and risk management in EU countries and trading partners.   For 30 years the JRC has worked together with DG-Environment and Member State competent authorities to disseminate good practice for chemical accident prevention and to build an extensive European knowledgebase on industrial risk assessment and lessons learned from accidents. Since early 2000 both JRC and a number of Member States have played complimentary roles in assisting Candidate and Pre-Accession Countries in building capacity to implement Seveso effectively.  The Technical Working Group on Seveso Inspections (TWG 2) has been actively facilitating exchange of good practice and technical criteria for Seveso inspections since 2004.

More recently, the JRC has collaborated with international partners to give technical training to help build capacity in developing countries where industrialisation is quickly making chemical accident prevention and preparedness a priority for sustainable development.