The Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents came into existence in 1992. 41 countries have joined so far. The cooperate not only in the case of severe accidents, but they have implemented prevention measures, exchanging standards and best practices. At Loss Prevention 2016, Franziska Ilg-Hirsch (UNECE) & Martin Merkofer (Swiss Federal Office for the Environment) will present the Convention and its practical implementation in the case of Switzerland. We interviewed them before the event what the Convention has changed.
In your plenary lecture, you will outline the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. What is the main goal of this Convention?
The main goals of the Convention are to protect human health and the environment by preventing industrial accidents from occurring, reducing their frequency and severity and by mitigating their effects. The Convention fosters transboundary cooperation among neighbouring or riparian countries for the prevention of, preparedness for and response to such industrial accidents.
2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Sandoz accident that had severe cross-border implications for the environment. The Convention came into existence in 1992. If you take the Sandoz accident as an example, what would be handled differently today with the Convention in place compared to 1986?
Today, compared with 1986, the 41 Parties to the Convention – comprising countries in the EU, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia – have put in place measures for industrial accident prevention and preparedness and related national and regional cooperation structures. Countries have established horizontal mechanisms for cooperation at the national level among authorities responsible for environmental protection, civil protection, internal affairs, emergency situations, defense, health, just to name a few…Countries have also implemented and strengthened vertical and horizontal cooperation between the national, regional and local authorities.It is the local authorities, for example, which are the first to become aware of accidents at installations holding hazardous substances.
„It is important that information is passed on from local authorities“
It is important that this information is passed on in accordance with the requirements of the Convention, to the public, and to neighbouring countries. In the past 30 years, countries have strengthened the obligations placed on the operators to safely manage their installations and the respective scrutiny, for example through the periodic submission of safety reports, inspections and audits. And very importantly, according to Art. 4 of the Convention, countries have to enter into discussions on the identification of hazardous activities and to inform each other mutually about installations which could cause an accident with transboundary effects, and put in place joint emergency preparedness and response measures.
As to the transboundary collaboration on prevention and preparedness, it is worth mentioning the Agreement between the Swiss Federal Council, the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of the French Republic on the transboundary co-operation in the Upper Rhine Area as well as the Agreement on the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR).
What are the most important tools of the Convention – standards, communication infrastructures…?
First of all, the predominant tool is the Convention itself as a treaty ratified by 41 countries, the so-called “Parties” which have to implement the Convention’s legal obligations. Specific guidance on implementing these obligations has been prepared for countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia whom the Convention supports through its Assistance Programme. Under this Programme, so-called “benchmarks” have been developed, allowing countries to self-assess their national situation as regards industrial safety and to prepare national action plans, outlining improvements. These documents are then being reviewed by the Convention’s Working Group on Implementation, comprised of experts of different countries who can provide guidance and recommendations. Dedicated national and regional capacity-building or assistance activities, in which these experts participate, serve to provide dedicated support to countries, tailored to their needs.
Furthermore, the Convention has developed specific technical guidance for all countries in the UNECE region, for example on safety reports, oil terminals, pipelines and tailings management facilities.
„A platform to exchange experiences and good practices“
Very importantly, the Convention also serves as a platform to exchange experiences and good practices in promoting industrial safety among its Parties. In between the different meetings organized under the Convention’s umbrella, communication channels and networks are being maintained through the different Working Groups and communication among the countries in the region and between them and the secretariat. The Working Group on Implementation periodically reviews the Convention’s implementation by its Parties and other countries which have committed themselves to implementing it, and provides an overview on the status of implementation of the Conference of the Parties. The Working Group on Development provides a forum for all Parties to update the Convention, in line with policy developments in the area, and ensure its amendment, as necessary. An amendment has just been agreed by the Working Group, among others to open the Convention for accession to all UN member States beyond the UNECE region, yet to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties this November. And the Joint Expert Group on Water and Industrial Accidents – joint with the UNECE Water Convention – provides expert advice and guidance to countries in order to strengthen their efforts for the prevention of accidental water pollution and the mitigation of such potential effects.
What have been the major success stories since the introduction of the Convention, and what remains still to be done?
One of the key successes of the Convention is a higher level of awareness of the need to invest in the prevention of industrial accidents and respective preparedness measures – by national authorities, business, the public and other stakeholders. These actors are required to cooperate, for example in the development of contingency plans.
„Major success stories“
Major success stories since the introduction of the Convention are, for example, the introduction of procedures for safety reporting as a prevention measure in countries in South-Eastern Europe, along with the countries’ ratification of the Convention – which was a major stepping stone in their subsequent implementation of the corresponding EU legislation, the so-called “Seveso”-Directive. On the preparedness and response side, we are proud to report that the Republic of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine have drafted a joint transboundary contingency plan, which will enable the countries to limit the consequences of an accident in the Danube Delta, a precious natural heritage site. The plan has been tested and improved following the first-ever trilateral field exercise in the Danube Delta among the 3 countries organized by UNECE under the Danube-Delta project. Through this project, the countries have established new cooperation structures, involving the operators of oil terminals in the Delta, the national and local authorities and the first responders.
The implementation reports submitted by Parties to the Convention every two years show gradual improvements in the implementation of the Convention. Lots remains, however, to be done. Many Parties yet have to notify the installations holding hazardous substances to their neighbouring countries or others which could be affected, including through accidental water pollution. Coordinated or joint preparedness and response measures need to be increasingly developed. And some of the most hazardous sites which are “ticking time bombs” need to urgently implement enhanced safety measures, such as several tailings management facilities in Ukraine and in Central Asia. A failure of these may lead to severe transboundary consequences, potentially causing national and regional catastrophes with radioactive waste being released into nearby watercourses. This only shows the importance of assistance and solidarity among the countries in the region, those with more advanced safety levels supporting improvements in countries in transition.
How has Switzerland implemented the Convention? Can this be used as an example for other countries as well?
Switzerland has ratified the Convention in 1999. The Sandoz Accident in 1986 was the trigger for the development of the Swiss Major Accident Ordinance (MAO) that entered into force in 1991, several years before the ratification of the Convention. Compared to the Convention, the scope of application of the MAO is broader. The threshold quantities for establishments are lower than the ones in Annex I of the Convention – which are similar to the EU Seveso III-Directive. Furthermore, transport installations where dangerous goods are transported as well as high pressure gas and oil pipelines are subordinated to the MAO.
In addition to the broader scope, Switzerland has chosen a risk based approach to protect the public and the environment against serious harm or damage. Every operator of an installation in the scope of the MAO has to submit to the competent authority an assessment of the possible damages outside the installation and – when these damages can be serious – a quantified risk assessment.
The example of Switzerland shows that the Convention gives a good framework for major accident prevention and it gives also the necessary room to the Parties to implement it according to the different safety cultures.
More on the Convention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ph8jKOOaS0&index=1&list=PL4iZR0KyjSQ9VxjaqLHPk0yeXQYssy-Tz
Meet the speakers and learn more at Loss Prevention 2016