Our thoughts are with all of those affected by the tragic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.
News reports are associating the explosion with the storage of Ammonium Nitrate at the capital's port.
The main use of ammonium nitrate is as a fertiliser, marketed either as prills (small spheres) or granules. The UK is the heaviest user of ammonium and ammonium nitrate-based fertilisers in the world. The blending, storage, transport and use of fertilisers is commonplace (source UK.Gov). Ammonium Nitrate is not in itself combustible but, as it is an oxidising agent, it can assist other materials to burn, even if air is excluded. The primary hazard associated with Ammonium Nitrate the potential for explosion.
The UK operates a comprehensively regulated legislative and licencing regime for storage of Ammonium Nitrate. Relevant legislation includes:
- Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH)
- Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) Regulations 1990
- Ammonium Nitrate Materials (High Nitrogen Content) Regulations
- Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations
A licence is a document that allows the holder to store and/or manufacture explosives. The holder of the licence is the person who controls the activities covered by that licence i.e. manufacturing and/or storing the explosives, and complies with the conditions of that licence.
Licences can be granted by either, Local Authorities, Police, HSE or ONR, depending on factors such as: whether the activity is manufacture or storage, whether an explosives certificate from the police is needed to acquire and keep explosives, the quantity of explosives, whether or not the separation distances can be met.
Explosives in UK Ports
Some UK ports handle and store Ammonium Nitrate as well as other explosives.
Activities relating to explosives in ports are covered by the The Dangerous Goods in Harbour Areas Regulations 2016 (DGHAR).
DGHAR prohibits, with certain exceptions, explosives from being brought into or handled in a harbour area unless such activities are covered by an explosives licence granted by HSE.
An explosives licence is also required for:
- loading explosives on board a vessel
- unloading explosives from a vessel
when this occurs on any part of the coast or in the tidal waters of Great Britain or within the territorial waters adjacent to Great Britain.
The licence provides a means to specify any conditions or restrictions that need to apply to a particular harbour area, including limits on the type and quantities of explosive handled and where in the harbour area such handling activities may take place.
Ports licence applications
Applications can be submitted by a harbour authority, a berth operator or a person having interest in the activities involved. The application form, detailed guidance notes and information on fees can be found at Forms.
Security of explosives at ports
For advice on the security of explosives at ports, contact the Explosives Inspectorate.
Relevant forms and documents
- Guidance on applying for a ports licence (PDF)- Portable Document Format
- Example port safeguarding plan (PDF)- Portable Document Format
- Current fees