Industrial safety: why transboundary cooperation matters
Industrial facilities play a significant role in our daily lives and the economies of our countries, as they store, process or produce substances that we use on a day-to-day basis without asking ourselves where they come from. We use diesel oil to fuel cars, asphalt to build streets, fertilizers to enhance crop yields and detergents to clean houses, just to name a few.
Yet, rarely do we think about the hazardous substances used for the production and transport of various goods and the severe consequences they may have on our lives and the environment in the event of their release into soil, air or water. Operators of industrial facilities need to take appropriate safety measures to prevent accidents from happening and, in the event of an accident, be prepared to react quickly to minimize the negative effects.
Your country may have the necessary legislation in place to provide for high standards of industrial safety and to enforce these standards as necessary, but is this enough to feel safe? Let’s ask Karl and Maria.
Karl and Maria are farmers. Together with their two children, Karl and Maria live in a village called Picturesque. They grow crops and breed cows. Picturesque is considered a very safe community, as the nearest industrial facility in the country is located hundreds of kilometres away. However, Picturesque is only 15 kilometres from the State border and Karl and Maria’s family often goes to the neighbouring State to buy fertilizers for their soil. The fertilizers that the family uses are produced in the neighbouring country at a plant located on the Shiny River, only 20 kilometres upstream from the family home. Karl, Maria and other farmers use water from the river for irrigation.
Could the plant that is situated on the other side of the border affect the lives of Karl, Maria and their two children? Does this family have the right to know about the hazards connected to the plant's activity? And should they be aware that the same fertilizer substances that are nourishing for their soil can be detrimental for their health and even lethal in some cases?
Recently, Karl and Maria’s daughter Paula asked Karl what would happen if an accident were to occur at the plant. She wanted to know if her family was prepared to take measures in case of accident. These are legitimate concerns because, if the neighbouring country does not share information about the facility’s activities, the community cannot prepare or respond to accidents.
Karl was happy to reassure his daughter that an appropriate international mechanism exists and the two countries cooperate to ensure high standards of industrial safety.
Such cooperation is possible due to the 1992 UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, which is designed to protect people and the environment against the devastating effects of industrial accidents. The primary focus of the Convention is transboundary cooperation between countries on industrial accident prevention, preparedness and response. As such, the Convention promotes active international cooperation before, during and after an industrial accident, and encourages its Parties to help each other in the event of an accident, to coordinate their research and development, and to share information and technology.
A special Industrial Accident Notification System has been developed which countries can use to notify any other countries that might potentially be affected if an accident takes place on their territory, and to provide them with the information needed to mitigate the effects of the accident.
There is also an Assistance Programme for countries that need further support in implementing the requirements of the Convention. At present, 40 States and the European Union are Parties to the Convention and 15 countries benefit from the Assistance Programme. The Convention and its secretariat support countries, for example, by:
- Developing safety guidelines and good practices (for example, on oil terminals, pipelines, tailings facilities, etc.) for competent authorities and operators
- Implementing multilateral field exercises between countries sharing a river delta, such as in the Danube Delta
- Monitoring and providing advice on the implementation of the Convention through the Working Group on Implementation.
If the safety standards are uniform and countries cooperate to prevent, prepare and respond to industrial accidents, communities benefit from greater awareness, are well-informed and are better prepared to take measures when an accident occurs. This means greater safety for your families and the environment around you.