What to know - Industrial risk of major accident

What to know?

Currently, there are 971 industrial facilities in Italy that use specific hazardous substances in their activities and are thus classified as being at "major accident risk." An accident in such facilities can lead to a fire, explosion, or toxic cloud with immediate or delayed severe danger to human health and the environment.

The industrial risk of major accident is regulated by European legislation, which has also been established at the national and regional level following major accidents such as the Italian Seveso accident in 1976.  

A major industrial accident can affect human health, the environment, and goods. 

The effects on human health differ depending on the type of accident, the features of the substances released, their concentration, the length of exposure, and the amount of absorbed dose. In the case of fire, health effects are primarily related to the heat and combustion fumes (burns, respiratory damage, intoxication). In case of explosion, the effects are caused by the shock waves generated or the material throw (trauma). In the case of a toxic cloud, the effects are caused by inhalation, ingestion, or contact with the substance (discomfort, lacrimation, nausea, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness). 

The effects on the environment are linked to soil, water, and air contamination by the released substances. 

Finally, the effects on goods involve damage to facilities and structures, such as collapses and broken windows.  

The effects of a major industrial accident can be reduced through the arrangement and implementation of emergency plans, both internal and external to the plant.  

The Internal Emergency Plan (IEP) is drafted by the operator of the industrial facility for immediate response to an accident with its teams and eventually in cooperation with the fire department.  

The External Emergency Plan (EEP) is drafted by the Prefect, the competent public authority, in conjunction with the mayor and the facility operator. It organizes the civil protection response to mitigate the effects of the event on public health and the environment. This Plan indicates the risk zones, warning methods, and rules of behaviour for the public. In case of an accident, it may require indoor sheltering or evacuation.  

When an accident occurs at an industrial facility, the facility's operator immediately notifies the Prefect, the Municipality, and the Region of the nature of the event and its extent, including information on the substance released and the initial measures taken. 

Upon assessment of the situation, the Prefect orders the execution of the External Emergency Plan and the Mayor, in agreement with the Prefect, through the municipal structure, informs the population until the situation is resolved.  

The IT-alert public alert system is used in case of an accident at an industrial facility classified as at risk of major accident. An IT-alert message is then sent to the cell phones of the people located within radius of 2 km of the plant to inform them of the potential danger. It is, therefore, essential to know what to do right away.

In the occurrence of a release of toxic substances from an industrial facility, emergency management parties may order indoor shelter or evacuation for citizens, providing, in this case, directions on how to leave and reach waiting and/or shelter areas. The activation methods of warning systems are provided in the External Emergency Plan, in the different modes for indoor shelter or evacuation warning signals. 

Italy has equipped itself with a national public warning system, IT-alert, for direct information to the population, which broadcasts messages to cell phones in a given geographic area in case of upcoming or ongoing major emergencies or disasters, including an event at an industrial facility classified as at risk of a major accident. Remember that the IT-alert system has some limitations. For more information, go to www.it-alert.gov.it/en