Universiteit Leiden

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Chemical firms in the Netherlands regularly break safety rules

The Dutch chemical industry is regularly in breach of safety legislation. These are the findings of longitudinal research by the Department of Criminology at Leiden University, in collaboration with the Department of Criminology at VU Amsterdam. Over the past ten years, the roughly 400 companies to which the Decree on Major Accident Hazards 2015 (Brzo) applies broke the rules 7,362 times.

Around 400 companies in the Netherlands work with hazardous substances. They must implement the safety measures set out in the Brzo for the protection of their employees, local residents and the environment. Researchers from Leiden University and VU Amsterdam looked at the data from all 3,650 inspections that were carried out at these companies over the past ten years and found 7,362 breaches: around 15 per company over the ten-year period.

Small group of notorious rule breakers

A small group of businesses are guilty of frequent breaches: a mere 7% of the companies that were investigated were responsible for over 40 of the breaches in the past ten years. Together, these notorious rule breakers were therefore responsible for almost a quarter (24.5%) of all the breaches.

Furthermore, the researchers concluded that businesses that were more likely to break the rules also broke a higher number of different rules per time. This suggests that the underlying causes of the breaches lie with the business itself rather than a specific part of the legislation.

Breaches no predictor of accidents

The extent, gravity, type and diversity of the breaches did not prove to have predictive value for the occurrence of serious accidents at a company. This is surprising because it would be expected that breaches of safety measures would increase the risk of an accident. The researchers have now started further research into this.

The Netherlands was shaken in recent years by a number of serious incidents in the chemical industry, at Esso, Shell, Odfjell and Chemie-Pack, for instance. Breaches of rules in the chemical industry can pose an immediate and serious danger to people and the environment. This makes it crucial to have a better understanding of which companies break the rules and when.

A full report on the research was published on Tuesday 25 February. This was commissioned by the Enforcement and Behaviour Programme. 

Read the full report [in Dutch].

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