Major accidents involving dangerous chemicals

Directive 2012/18/EU on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances

It aims to control major accident hazards involving dangerous substances, especially chemicals.

This Directive, so-called Seveso-III, amended the previous Seveso-II (Directive 96/82/EC), which, in view of the lessons learned from later accidents such as Bhopal, Toulouse or Enschede, had amended the original Seveso-Directive (Directive 82/501/EEC), after the catastrophic accident in the Italian town of Seveso in 1976 prompted the adoption of legislation on the prevention and control of such accidents.

This legislation has been changed to give the public stronger rights. It provides them with better access to information about the risks which might occur from nearby industrial installations and how to react in the event of an accident.

That information, which explains how alerts will be sounded and how the public should act, must be available online.

What has changed?

The law now covers some 12,000 industrial sites across the EU where chemicals or petrochemicals are used or stored, or where metal refining takes place.

Every EU country must ensure measures are in place to deal with accidents in areas around industrial installations housing large quantities of dangerous products:

Companies handling these substances above certain thresholds must:

regularly inform the people who could be affected by an accident
provide safety reports
establish a safety management system
put in place an internal emergency plan.

The new law also:

tightens the procedures for public consultation on projects, plans and programmes involving plants covered by the legislation.
ensures, through changes to land-use planning laws, that new plants are sited a safe distance away from existing ones.
allows people to go to court if they consider they have not been properly informed or involved.
introduces stricter inspection standards for the various installations, to ensure the safety rules are being effectively implemented.
Why the update?

The latest legislation takes account of certain technical European and international changes in the way chemicals are classified.


Considering the very high rate of industrialisation in the EU, the Seveso Directive has contributed to achieving a low frequency of major accidents. The Directive is widely considered as a benchmark for industrial accident policy and has been a role model for legislation in many countries worldwide.

For more information, please see:

Major accident hazards (European Commission)

It has applied since 13 August 2012. EU countries must apply the new rules from 1 June 2015.


Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC (OJ L 197, 24.7.2012, pp. 1-37)


Report from the Commission on the application in the Member States of Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances for the period 2012-2014 (COM(2017) 665 final of 16 November 2017)

Major accidents involving dangerous substances

Following the first Seveso Directive in 1982, the Seveso II Directive is intended to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances and limit their consequences for man and the environment, with a view to ensuring high levels of protection throughout the Community.

Council Directive 96/82/EC of 9 December 1996 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances

This Directive (Seveso II) replaced Directive 82/501/EEC (Seveso I, named after the Italian town which suffered exposure to an accidental release of dioxin in 1976). It introduced important changes and new concepts. It focuses on protection of the environment, and was the first to cover substances considered dangerous for the environment, in particular aquatoxics. It introduced new requirements relating to safety management systems, emergency plans and land-use planning and tightened up the provisions on inspections and public information.


The Directive’s scope was both broadened and simplified. It is applicable to any establishment where dangerous substances are present, or likely to be produced as a result of an accident, in quantities equal to or in excess of the quantities listed in the Annex. The list of named substances in the Annex was reduced from 180 to 50, but is accompanied by a list of categories of substances, which in practice broadens the scope.

Directive 2003/105/EC (see amending acts) extended the scope of the Seveso II Directive to cover the processing and storage of minerals containing dangerous substances extracted in mining and quarrying, and the tailings disposal facilities used in these activities.

The Directive does not apply to the following:

  • military establishments;
  • hazards created by ionising radiation;
  • the carriage of dangerous substances by road, rail, air and inland waterways;
  • the carriage of dangerous substances in pipelines outside the establishments covered by the Directive;
  • waste landfill sites.

General obligations of the operator

Member States must ensure that the operator:

  • takes all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and to limit their consequences for man and the environment;
  • is required to prove to the competent authority that all the necessary measures have been taken.

The burden of proof for the latter obligation rests on the operator.


The Directive includes an obligation to notify under the principle that it is illegal for enterprises to hold large quantities of dangerous substances without informing the authorities. This notification must contain the following details:

  • the name of the operator and the address of the establishment;
  • the registered place of business of the operator;
  • the name or position of the person in charge of the establishment;
  • information sufficient to identify the dangerous substances or category of substances involved;
  • the quantity and physical form of the dangerous substance or substances involved;
  • the immediate environment of the establishment.

In the event of a change in the situation (for example, the closure of an establishment), the operator must immediately inform the competent authority.

Prevention policy

Member States must ensure:

  • that the operator draws up a document setting out his major-accident prevention policy;
  • that the policy is properly implemented.

Safety report

Member States must require the operator to produce a safety report for the purposes of:

  • demonstrating that a major-accident prevention policy and a safety management system have been put into effect;
  • demonstrating that major-accident hazards have been identified and that the necessary measures have been taken to prevent such accidents and to limit their consequences;
  • demonstrating that adequate safety and reliability have been incorporated into the design, construction, operation and maintenance of any installation, storage facility, equipment and infrastructure connected with its operation which are linked to major-accident hazards inside the establishment;
  • demonstrating that internal emergency plans have been drawn up;
  • supplying information to enable an external plan to be drawn up;
  • providing sufficient information to the competent authorities.

The safety report must contain certain specific information, including an updated inventory of the dangerous substances present in the establishment.

The report must be reviewed:

  • at least every five years, or
  • at any other time at the initiative of the operator or the request of the competent authority, where justified by new facts, or
  • in the event of a site being modified.

Under certain conditions, the operator may be granted a dispensation by the competent authority from providing certain information in the safety report, without this affecting the obligation to submit the report, however. Member States must notify the Commission of any dispensations, and the reasons why they were granted.

Emergency plans

Member States must ensure that all operators obliged to submit a safety report also draw up an internal emergency plan and supply the competent authorities with the information necessary to draw up an external emergency plan. The emergency plans must be reviewed at least every three years.

Precautions regarding location

The competent authority must:

  • identify establishments or groups of establishments where the risk or consequences of a major accident could be increased due to the location and the proximity of the establishments and their holdings of dangerous substances;
  • ensure an exchange of information and cooperation between the establishments.

Information on safety measures

Member States must ensure that the objectives of preventing major accidents are taken into account in their land-use policies, notably through controls on the siting of new establishments, modifications to existing establishments and new developments (transport links, residential areas, etc.) in the vicinity of existing establishments. They must take into account the need, in the long term, to ensure that appropriate distances are maintained or created between establishments and residential areas.

Member States must ensure that information on safety measures and on the requisite behaviour in the event of an accident is supplied, without their having to request it, to persons liable to be affected by a major accident. They must also ensure that safety reports are made permanently available to the public.

Moreover, the public must be able to give its opinion in the following cases:

  • planning for new establishments;
  • modifications to existing establishments;
  • developments around existing establishments.

Member States must, with respect to the possibility of a major accident with transboundary effects, provide sufficient information to potentially affected neighbours to enable them to take appropriate action.

Information to be provided following a major accident

Following a major accident, the operator must:

  • inform the competent authority;
  • provide them with information on the circumstances of the accident, the dangerous substances involved, the data available for assessing the effects of the accident on people and the environment and the emergency measures taken;
  • inform them of the steps envisaged to alleviate the effects of the accident and to prevent any recurrence of such an accident;
  • update the information provided.

The competent authority must:

  • ensure that emergency measures have been taken;
  • collect the information necessary for a full analysis of the accident, if necessary by inspection;
  • ensure that the operator takes any necessary remedial measures;
  • make recommendations on future preventive measures.

Information to be provided by Member States to the Commission

Member States must inform the Commission of major accidents which have occurred within their territory. The information must initially comprise:

  • the name and address of the authority responsible for the report;
  • the date, time and place of the major accident;
  • the name of the operator and the address of the establishment;
  • a description of the circumstances of the accident;
  • a description of the emergency measures and precautions taken.

In order to fulfil its obligations with respect to informing Member States, the Commission must establish a file and an information system to collect all the data on major accidents occurring within the territory of Member States.


The competent authorities must organise a system of inspections so as to ensure:

  • that the operator can demonstrate that he has provided appropriate means for preventing major accidents and limiting their consequences;
  • that the safety report is accurate and complete;
  • that information has been supplied to the public.

Prohibition of operations

Member States must prohibit the operating of any establishment, installation or storage facility where the measures taken by the operator for the prevention of accidents are inadequate. Member States may also prohibit operations if the operator has not submitted:

  • the notification;
  • the reports;
  • any other information required by the Directive.


Directive 96/82/EC was adopted in anticipation of the Community’s approval of the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents, within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. This approval took place on 23 March 1998, with the Council Decision concerning the conclusion of the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents (Decision 98/685/EC). Directive 96/82/EC is the instrument transposing the Community’s obligations under the Convention into Community law.

Following various industrial accidents (the cyanide spill in the river Tisza in Baia Mare, Romania, in May 2000; the explosion at a fireworks warehouse in Enschede, Netherlands, in May 2000; and the explosion at a fertiliser plant in Toulouse, France, in September 2001), the Parliament and the Council adopted Directive 2003/105/EC amending the Seveso II Directive. In particular, the new Directive:

  • extends the scope of the Seveso II Directive (see below);
  • improves the definition of pyrotechnic and explosive substances;
  • includes material rejected during the manufacturing process or returned to the manufacturer (off-specs) in the categories of ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate-based fertilisers covered by the Seveso II Directive.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 96/82/EC 03.02.1997 03.02.1999 OJ L 10 of 14.01.1997


Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2003/105/EC 31.12.2003 01.07.2005 OJ L 345 of 31.12.2003
Regulation (EC) 1882/2003 20.11.2003 OJ L 284 of 31.10.2003


Commission Decision 2002/605/EC of 17 July 2002 concerning the questionnaire relating to Council Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances [Official Journal L 195 of 24.07.2002].

Commission Decision 98/433/EC of 26 June 1998 on harmonised criteria for dispensations according to Article 9 of Council Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances [Official Journal L 192 of 08.07.1998].


Report from the Commission of 12 October 1999 on the application in the Member States of Council Directive 82/501/EEC of 24 June 1982 on the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities for the period 1994-96 [Official Journal C 291 of 12.10.1999].
This report concerns Directive 82/501/EEC, i.e. the Seveso I Directive.
The Commission presented a first report on the application of this Directive on 18 May 1988 [COM(88) 261 final].
The report shows how practical implementation and enforcement of the Directive improved in the Member States, particularly in terms of the growing number of safety reports received from operators of ‘Seveso sites’ and examined by the competent authorities in the Member States, the growing number of sites inspected and the growing number of emergency plans. However, it notes that the persistently high accident rate over the report period (92 major accidents occurred and were notified to the Commission by the Member States) showed the need for further efforts to reduce the risks related to major accidents from fixed industrial installations.

Report from the Commission of 31 January 2002 on the application in the Member States of Directive 82/501/EEC of 24 June 1982 on the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities for the period 1997-1999 [Official Journal C 28 of 31.1.2002].

This is the final report on the application of the Seveso I Directive. It includes some information on the implementation of the Seveso II Directive. It underlines the lack of homogeneity of the data forwarded by the Member States to be used in the report. However, progress appears to have been made in respect of public information and the quality of safety reports. The situation could nonetheless be improved, in the context of the Seveso II Directive, notably in terms of emergency plans.


Last updated: 25.07.2007

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