Industrial accidents

The Seveso III Directive brings in new legislation for the control of large quantities of dangerous substances. Eric Davies reports.


The Seveso III Directive requires companies using large quantities of dangerous substances to comply with new EU rules on emergency plans. The legislation also aims to give citizens better access to information on industrial installations, and to improve inspection standards of relevant plants.

The Seveso Directives

Following an accident at a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy, in 1976, some 2000 people were treated for dioxin poisoning. In response to the accident, the European Economic Community adopted Council Directive 82/501/EEC “on the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities”. Known as the Seveso Directive, it was replaced by Council Directive 96/82/EC “on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances” (the Seveso II Directive). Seveso II lays down rules aimed at preventing major accidents associated with industrial activities and at limiting the human and environmental health consequences of any accidents that do occur.

The current legislation applies to some 10,000 industrial sites that use or store dangerous substances in large quantities. A review of Seveso II confirmed that, although the rate of major accidents has remained stable, changes are required to existing provisions. Directive 96/82/EC has therefore been replaced by Directive 2012/18/EU (Seveso III). Seveso III entered into force on 13 August 2012 and must be implemented by 1 June 2015 within the European Economic Area (ie the EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

Tiered approach

The Seveso III Directive divides sites into two tiers, based on the quantities of dangerous substances they hold. The threshold quantities for relevant substances are set out in Annex 1. Establishments in the lower tier are considered to present a lesser risk and are therefore subject to less stringent requirements. Requirements for upper-tier establishments are stricter and, amongst other things, include more frequent site inspections (at least once a year) and the provision of additional information to the public.

Emergency plans

Upper-tier establishments must comply, in particular, with provisions concerning emergency plans, as set out in Article 12 and Annex IV of Seveso III. Operators (defined as “natural or legal persons who operate or control an establishment or installation”) must draw up an emergency plan for measures to be taken inside the establishment, and must also supply information to the competent authority so that external emergency plans can be formulated.

For existing upper-tier establishments, 1 June 2016 is the deadline for drawing up the internal emergency plan and also for providing the necessary information externally.

Emergency plans must address a number of issues, including:

  • containing and controlling incidents so as to minimise the effects, and to limit damage to human health, the environment and property

  • implementing measures necessary to protect human health and the environment from the effects of major accidents

  • communicating information to the public and to the services or authorities concerned in the area

  • providing for environmental restoration and clean-up following a major accident.

Land-use planning

Under Article 13 of the Seveso III Directive, Member States must ensure that the objectives of preventing major accidents and limiting the consequences of such accidents for human and environmental health are taken into account in their land use and other relevant policies. Provisions must be made to protect areas of particular natural sensitivity or interest, and to maintain appropriate safety distances between relevant establishments and residential areas, public areas, recreational areas and, where possible, major transport routes.

Further information

The text of Directive 2012/18/EU “on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC” can be found on the European Union law (EUR-Lex) website. Background information and associated materials are available on the European Commission website.