On the 4th August 2020, in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, a team of nine firefighters and one paramedic attended a large fire burning out of control dangerously close to a large grain silo vital to the country’s food supply. Unbeknownst to the emergency services, the warehouse contained 2,750 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate; A highly combustible aggregate used primarily in agriculture and mining. The warehouse is also believed to have been a repository of confiscated property such as fireworks and paint thinner. Within hours this volatile stockpile ignited, resulting in a shockwave felt in Cyprus approximately 240km away. A plume of smoke rose above Beirut, coloured red by Nitrogen Dioxide. Alongside the first responders, over 200 people lost their lives in the blast and another 5,000 were injured. The government of Lebanon has since resigned in the face of mounting popular anger over the incident.
While the UK is the heaviest user of Ammonium Nitrate-based fertilisers in the world, accidents are thankfully rare in the UK ports sector. Regulations such as The Dangerous Goods in Harbour Areas (DGHAR) and Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) are specifically designed to break the chain of decisions that led to the destruction witnessed in Beirut. Meanwhile, the handling of any highly explosive material in a British port requires a license issued by local authorities, Police, the Health and Safety Executive or the Office for Nuclear Regulation. This ensures that compounds such as ammonium nitrate are stored for only short periods of time, away from other combustible materials, and in clean, dry spaces free of contaminants.
Despite the high amount of legislation and licensing required to manage explosive goods, it is still advisable to keep informed and up to date on best practises within the sector. To this end, PSS, together with the HSE, are planning to hold their one-day course looking at explosives security, licensing and current regulations. This popular event will be ideal for any port organisation looking to train their employees in explosives safety and licensing. It is also ideal for existing Explosives Security Officers looking to revise their existing knowledge, and a date will be announced shortly.
In addition to this, as part of our commitment to working with members to raise standards in UK Ports, we will soon be inviting port managers and harbour masters to a consultation workshop to develop a “Managing Explosives Safety in Ports” course. The intention is to ensure that all levels of seniority are aware of the dangers inherent in handling unstable materials, and to provide an additional stop gap to prevent a tragedy like Beirut from happening in the UK. More details to follow in due course via the PSS comms channels