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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Amanda Cameron

Avonmouth explosion tragedy: councillor calls for greater regulation amid concerns over industrial area

A Bristol Labour councillor has called for greater safety regulation of workplaces in the wake of the Wessex Water plant tragedy.

Four people died in a blast at the water recycling plant in Avonmouth on Thursday, December 3.

Avon and Somerset Police are leading a joint inquiry with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) into the deaths.

Addressing fellow members of Bristol City Council this afternoon (December 8), councillor Jo Sergeant called the incident an “utter tragedy” and said it was time that safety regulators got their “teeth” back in to tackle a culture of “self regulation”.

Cllr Sergeant, who represents the residents of Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston, said: “Obviously, we don’t know, we don’t have all the information yet, and I don’t want to appear to be pointing fingers at anyone, but there is a real underlying concern about the culture of self-regulation and I feel it is really important to put on record that we need to get our regulators’ teeth back in so that they can actually proactively regulate all our businesses.”

She called on the council and other authorities in the region to lobby the UK Government to boost regulators’ resources and power “to ensure that we avoid further loss of life and reduce the negative impacts on nearby communities”.

Prosecutions by the HSE declined sharply last year after its budget was cut by a third, but prime minister Boris Johnson promised more funding earlier this year so that the organisation could carry out "spot inspections".

Cllr Sergeant was speaking at a meeting for councillors ahead of a Bristol City full council meeting this afternoon, where a minute’s silence will be held to remember the four victims of the tragedy.

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In her written statement to the meeting, she said: “The loss of four lives in an explosion at the Wessex Water treatment plant is an utter tragedy and my thoughts and condolences go out to the families and friends of: Michael James, Brian Vickery, Raymond White and Luke Wheaton.

“As a representative of Bristol residential communities adjacent to the Avonmouth & Severnside Enterprise Area (ASEA), I must also express concern about the number of incidents that have occurred over the years and their impact on local residents.

“Dust, flies, smells, fires, explosions and this most recent event, along with higher rates of Covid, have taken their toll on my ward residents, particularly in the localities of Lawrence Weston and Avonmouth.

“It is recognised that the Avonmouth and Severnside is a crucial economic driver for the City of Bristol and the West of England region. It is also accepted that waste management (including water treatment) is an absolute necessity and has to be conducted somewhere.

“However the continuing culture of ‘self regulation’ is clearly not working in the best of interests of our citizens (and other workers) or those living closest to the ASEA.

“We can no longer leave it to business to ensure that health and safety is always put ahead of profit. We need greater active (and proactive) regulation for the safety of staff and contractors on individual sites, as well as for the wellbeing of nearby residents.

“I would therefore ask that our local and regional authorities lobby the UK Government to increase resources and power to our monitoring officers, the Environment Agency, the Health & Safety Executive and any other relevant regulatory bodies, to ensure that we avoid further loss of life and reduce the negative impacts on nearby communities.”

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