OECD working group on chemical accidents stresses need for immediate action

Governments and industry in OECD countries are taking a long hard look at the potential impact of the "millennium bug" (Y2K problem) on the safe operation of hazardous chemical factories and storage facilities.

This includes oil refineries, petrochemical plants and facilities that transport hazardous goods. Some chemical installations are already “Year 2000 compliant”. But many are still vulnerable because computers and imbedded chips may not properly recognise the change in dates from 31 December 1999 to 1 January 2000 (and possible other dates).

The OECD’s Working Group on Chemical Accidents — government and industry experts responsible for chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response — stressed, at a meeting in Paris on 2 December, that this is a serious problem which must be addressed immediately. All countries and international organisations on the Working Group agreed that many computers responsible for the maintenance schedules, monitoring and control and security systems in modern chemical installations are potentially vulnerable to Y2K failures.

The Group also agreed that both industry and governments must assume responsibility for the safe operation of chemical installations: governments must alert industry to possible problems; industry must self-police its hazardous chemical installations; and governments must be prepared to act immediately when notified of specific problems. There is particular concern about the level of awareness in small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In order to identify problem areas related to the millennium bug and its possible effect on chemical installations, the Working Group established the Electronic Information Clearing House on Chemical Emergencies. The Clearing House will increase the flow of information between government agencies, industry and others by providing material — reports, web sites, etc. prepared by experts who have had experience dealing with the issue — to those who are still struggling with the problem. It will also automatically route enquiries and information about the millennium bug and hazardous installations to designated contact points.

The OECD has set up and will manage the Clearing House in co-operation with the relevant agencies of the United Nations, thereby ensuring that all countries benefit from the available information.

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