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Chemical Accidents (Seveso II) - Legislation

Aim of the Seveso directive

The aim of the Seveso II Directive is two-fold. Firstly, the directive aims at the prevention of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances. Secondly, as accidents do continue to occur, the directive aims at the limitation of the consequences of such accidents not only for man (safety and health aspects) but also for the environment (environmental aspect). Both aims should be followed with a view to ensuring high levels of protection throughout the Community in a consistent and effective manner.


The scope of the Seveso II Directive deals solely with the presence of dangerous substances in establishments. It covers both, industrial "activities" as well as the storage of dangerous chemicals. The directive can be viewed as inherently providing for three levels of proportionate controls in practice, where larger quantities mean more controls. A company who holds a quantity of dangerous substance less than the lower threshold levels given in the Directive is not covered by this legislation but will be proportionately controlled by general provisions on health, safety and the environment provided by other legislation which is not specific to major-accident hazards. Companies that hold a larger quantity of dangerous substance, which is above the lower threshold contained in the directive, will be covered by the lower tier requirements. Companies that hold even larger quantities of dangerous substance (upper tier establishments), which is above the upper threshold contained in the directive, will be covered by all the requirements contained within the directive.

Important areas excluded from the scope of the Seveso II Directive include nuclear safety, the transport of dangerous substances and intermediate temporary storage outside establishments and the transport of dangerous substances by pipelines.

General and Specific Obligations

The directive contains general and specific obligations on both operators and the Member States’ authorities. The provisions broadly fall into two main categories related to the two-fold aim of the directive, that is control measures aimed at the prevention of major accidents and control measures aimed at the limitation of consequences of major accidents.

The Seveso II Directive is based on Article 174 (ex-Article 130s) of the EC Treaty. It is important to mention that, according to Article 176 (ex-Article 130t) of the EC Treaty; Member States can maintain or adopt stricter measures than those contained in the Seveso II Directive.

All operators of establishments coming under the scope of the directive need to send a notification to the competent authority and to establish a major accident prevention policy. In addition, operators of upper tier establishments need to establish a safety report, a safety management system and an emergency plan.

The competent authorities of the Member States may, at the request of an operator, decide that he may limit the information to be provided in his Safety Report (dispensation rule). The Commission Decision of 26 June 1998 (pdf format) (OJ No L 192 of 8 July 1998, p.19) contains harmonised criteria to be applied by the competent authorities when examining requests for dispensations.

Safety management systems

The introduction of safety management systems has taken account of the development of new managerial and organisational methods in general and, in particular, of the significant changes in industrial practice relating to risk management which have occurred over the past ten years. One of the main objectives pursued by this obligation is to prevent or reduce accidents caused by management factors which have proven to be a significant causative factor in over 90% of the accidents in the European Union since 1982.

Emergency plans

Internal Emergency plans for response measures to be taken inside establishments have to be drawn up by the operator and to be supplied to the local authorities to enable them to draw up External Emergency Plans. Emergency Plans have to be reviewed, revised and updated, where necessary. Important new elements require operators to consult with their personnel on Internal Emergency Plans and on the local authorities to consult with the public on External Emergency Plans. The Seveso II Directive contains an obligation to regularly test in practice the Internal and External Emergency Plans.

Land-Use Planning

This new provision reflects the ‘lesson learnt’ from the Bhopal accident that the land-use planning implications of major-accident hazards should be taken into account in the regulatory process. Member States are obliged to pursue the aim of the directive through controls on the siting of new establishments, modifications to existing establishments and new developments such as transport links, locations frequented by the public and residential areas in the vicinity of existing establishments. In the long term, Land-use Planning Policies shall ensure that appropriate distances between hazardous establishments and residential areas are maintained.

For more information refer to the Land-use planning website.

Information to and consultation of the public

The Seveso II Directive gives more rights to the public in terms of access to information as well as in terms of consultation. Operators as well as public authorities have certain obligations to inform the public. Whereas passive information means permanent availability of information, i.e. that this information can be requested by the public, active information means that operators or competent authorities themselves need to be pro-active, for example through the distribution of leaflets or brochures informing the public about the behaviour in the case of an accident.

Accident Reporting

Member States have the obligation to report major accidents to the Commission. In order to fulfil its information obligations towards the Member States, the Commission has established a so-called Major-Accident Reporting System (MARS) and the Community Documentation Centre on Industrial Risks (CDCIR) at the Major-Accident Hazards Bureau established within its Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy. Commission Decision 2009/10/EC establishes the report form pursuant to Council Directive 96/82/EC to be used.


In the Directive, an attempt is made to ensure increased consistency in enforcement at European level through greater prescriptive detail of the obligations of the competent authorities. The most important new element is that competent authorities are obliged to organise an Inspection System which can either consist of a systematic appraisal of each establishment or of at least one on-site inspection per year.