Dangerous Substances (Amendment) Bill, 1979: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Dangerous Substances Act was passed in 1972 to amend and up-date the law relating to explosives, petroleum and other dangerous substances—as identified by statutory instrument—and gave considerable powers to the Minister for Labour to make regulations concerning them.

These powers have not so far been exercised because, in 1972, the Government had to use the 1875 Explosive Act to prescribe ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate and nitro-benzene to be explosives for the purposes of that Act. These substances were believed to be in use for the making of bombs.

The 1972 Act could not be used to control the criminal use of explosives. An undertaking was given at the time of the passing of the Act that it would not be used in the criminal area. Further, the three substances mentioned could not be regarded as explosives within the meaning of the 1972 Act.

By means of the Bill now before the House I intend to operate those parts of the 1972 Act which relate to petroleum and other dangerous substances, leaving the legal position with respect to explosives as it is for the present, that is the Minister for Justice will continue to control this area.

In anticipation of bringing the Act into operation in this way, last autumn I gave notice of intention to make four sets of regulations regarding petroleum and invited observations from interested parties. These observations have been received and considered and where appropriate will be reflected in the regulations.

These petroleum regulations and the Act will operate from the same date. It is my intention that by virtue of these regulations the risks to persons and property in the conveyance, loading, unloading and storage of petroleum should be reduced to the absolute minimum if not entirely eliminated.

In addition, I intend to introduce regulations to cover the transport by road of other dangerous substances which I shall specify, also by regulation. Further regulations will control their loading, unloading and storage. I may mention that I propose to start by declaring by order 25 substances as dangerous, adding further substances as time goes on.

Section 2 of the Bill provides for the establishment of an advisory council. I am sure Senators are well aware of the many interests involved in the area of dangerous substances including workers, employers and the public. The volume, number, variety, dispersal and use of these substances have brought them to almost everybody's doorstep and there is an urgent need for indentifying them and providing information on the dangers, precautions and protective measures relating to them. I am satisfied that an advisory body could be of great assistance in these areas. The 1972 Act did not provide for such a body and in this Bill I propose to fill the gap. Maximum flexibility is necessary and section 2 should enable me to obtain the best advice on all aspects of the safe movement, handling and storage in this country of dangerous substances.

I commend the Bill to the House.

We on this side of the House welcome the Bill which is urgently needed. It is extraordinary that, even though the Dangerous Substances Act was passed in 1972, in the relatively short time since then, the dangerous element that exists in regard to dangerous substances has increased very much. This Bill may have been brought to the fore now due to the serious incidents which occurred both on the Continent and here in the past year particularly.

In my constituency in Louth there was an incident of gas poisoning yesterday in a factory. This type of thing is indicative of the dangerous elements that exist in industry. It is also an indication of the march of progress in regard to science generally, that we have more explosive elements coming into use each year. It is encouraging to see that in future there will be a much more regular review in regard to these substances and in regard to regulations relating to their control.

The Dangerous Substances Act of 1972 gives considerable powers to the Minister for Labour to make regulations concerning dangerous substances. I have no doubt that that Act will be fully implemented in the future.

I welcome the setting up of an advisory council. Having regard to the new dangerous substances coming on the market each year it is necessary to keep up to date with regard to the various substances and particularly in regard to the measures needed for their control. I see that 25 substances will be listed by the Minister as being dangerous and I look forward to hearing what these are. I am quite certain that that number will be increased as time goes on.

This Bill has come largely as a result of the unfortunate incidents which have occurred not only here but in other countries in recent years. In relation to the transport of dangerous substances and explosives, the roads that exist here at present are not an inducement to keep dangerous substances under control or to have regard to safety in the transport of these dangerous substances. In other countries the quality of the roads does not prevent accidents happening but we take a greater risk due to the lower quality of the roads in general. Every town here has seen an alarming increase in the amount of dangerous substances being conveyed through them in recent years.

In addition to the regulations which the Minister will make under this Bill, certain measures will have to be taken at local level in regard to speed control for vehicles conveying dangerous substances. It is not unknown for very large articulated trucks and containers carrying dangerous substances envisaged under these regulations to travel at very high speeds through urban areas. The Minister should ensure that the Minister for the Environment and also the Minister for Justice will do something in regard to the proper control of and the reduction of the speed of this highly dangerous transport.

We welcome this Bill and are glad to see that an advisory council will be set up. Such a council becomes more and more important in regard to Bills such as this because, with progress in science, reviews would have to be carried out much more regularly than hitherto as to what is dangerous and what controls will be needed in regard to conveyance, and with regard to general surveillance and control. I look forward to seeing what exactly is included in the regulations with regards to the various substances and the powers the regulations will confer on the Department and on local authorities as regards controls.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I had considerable difficulty in understanding this Bill. Its purpose is not in contention but it is very difficult to understand what the precise amendment achieves. The first section of this very brief Bill proposes to amend section 1 (2) of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972. Subsection (2) of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 provides:

This Act shall come into operation on such day as the Minister may by order appoint.

Instead of that subsection (2) we are substituting a different subsection (2) which says:

This Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may by order or orders appoint therefor either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so fixed for different purposes and different provisions.

That seems to give the Minister more flexibility about when he brings different provisions into effect but I cannot understand why the subsection has to be altered. Was it badly drafted in the first place, was there a mistake that we are now correcting? Perhaps the Minister would dwell on this with a little more detail. Effectively, what we seem to be doing in this Bill is saying that the Minister can bring different parts of it in on different days for different purposes. I do not understand what the Minister meant when he said that an assurance was given in 1972 in relation to not using the Act for certain purposes, and perhaps he could also explain that.

I am very much in favour of what appears to be the intent in enabling the Minister to make regulations in relation to the control of the transport of dangerous substances. It has always seemed to be a gap in our safety controls, both for the employees involved and for citizens who may be affected by accidents caused by dangerous substances on rail or road or other means of transport. This has become a particularly acute problem because of some of the industry which we have attracted to this country, which involves very dangerous substances. I refer to the chemical industry, or to plants like the Asahi plant near Killala where very dangerous substances are transported by rail and by road. Will the Minister give some indication, particularly in relation to the Asahi plant, as to whether the regulations will govern the transport of the material to the Asahi plant in Killala, and as to whether these regulations are already prepared and can be brought into effect immediately, or whether there will be a delay between the passage of this rather technical Bill and the implementation of the regulations for which the Minister seeks authority?

This is a most commendable measure and I hope it will have a very speedy passage through the House. More and more substances of a highly dangerous nature are coming into use at the moment and every step must be taken to ensure that dangers to life and property will be reduced to a minimum.

As a people we are inclined to take risks in most things, the handling of dangerous substances, and so on, and even amateurs rewire houses and do electrical repairs. It seems very often to be a sign of manliness to take unnecessary risks. If a job has been half-done, one often hears the remark that it is all right, that it will do. It will not do and every step must be taken in every area to make sure that risks to life and property will be reduced to a minimum.

The key sentence in the Minister's speech was:

Maximum flexibility is necessary and section 2 should enable me to obtain the best advice on all aspects of the safe movement, handling and storage of dangerous substances.

Dangerous substances are becoming far more common, and new substances and new materials are being manufactured in more sophisticated ways and the Minister has very often to act speedily in these matters.

Transport by road and sea was mentioned. There is a certain amount of anxiety as regards road transportation of dangerous substances. People are asking why cannot these substances be transported by sea. Perhaps the Minister would refer in his reply to the proposed transport of ammonia from Cork to Arklow by road rather than by sea. I hope this Bill will get a speedy passage and I hope people will enter into the spirit of it and get well rid of this idea of associating manliness and bravery with utter carelessness in the handling of dangerous substances.

I congratulate the Minister on his concern for the public at large in this measure. The updating of legislation is an on-going process. The Minister, in a very real and practical way, had been concerned about safety problems in industry and elsewhere. This Bill is a further extension of the Minister's concern.

I would direct attention to the question of the transportation, the loading and unloading and storage of dangerous substances. Very often nowadays dangerous substances are found in homes and on farms and I hope the Minister will direct his attention to the problems that this causes. I wonder if in the Bill there is an omission in relation to not alone the loading and unloading and storage of dangerous substances but also of the dumping of dangerous substances which is a very real problem in a community where dangerous substances have been dumped, close to residential areas where the dangers from the fumes and so on have not become apparent for some considerable time. In some cases, years afterwards, containers could explode or burst underground and then contamination could arise.

I hope also that the Minister will take the broadest possible view in relation to the composition of the advisory council who are to be set up. The council should not comprise only of academics, but housewives and workers, people who in a very practical way are dealing with the problems of safety at all times. In this area, a very substantial advance could be made without just getting a one-sided glance at the problems. In many factories at the moment grave concern has been expressed that some workers have been tampering with dangerous substances which puts other workers at risk. I am concerned and amazed that trade unionists sometimes put their fellow workers at risk by tampering with many of the dangerous substances because they feel that they are making a contribution on behalf of their trade unions. In fact they are causing grave problems and are in a way degrading the trade union organisation by creating problems. I appeal to responsible trade unionists and trade union leaders to desist from putting their fellow workers at risk.

In recent times, this type of terrorism has developed to an alarming degree. The newspapers tell us of sabotage in industry by workers tampering with dangerous substances and so on. It is about time we awoke to the fact that there are saboteurs in our midst, who in the future will tamper with dangerous substances in order to impose their wills on the community. That will be a sad day for us. We must take immediate positive action now to ensure that people can live their lives in comparative freedom away from this terror tactic that has developed in recent times. It is a sad reflection on trade unionists and employers who do not measure up to their responsibility and ensure that these saboteurs are removed so that people can live in comparative safety. If people have problems, the necessary machinery is there to solve them, so there should be no recourse to this type of sabotage that we have heard of in recent times. I hope every effort will be made by all responsible people to ensure that people who appear to be tampering with dangerous substances will be kept under proper surveillance and that responsible trade unionists, trade union officials, workers and management will play their part.

The Senator is straying away slightly from what is in the Bill.

On this Bill, where the Minister is making a positive effort to ensure the safety of everyone concerned, it is only fitting that we add our voice to this wide-ranging problem. I have very positive feelings about recent developments and I would not like to see this Bill sabotaged in any way in the future. We should strengthen the Minister's hand and congratulate him on the steps that he has taken, even though they may be unknown to the general public. This is a further step along the road and I wish the Minister the very best in the future. I would ask the Minister to consider the composition of the board and to make it's composition as wide as possible so as to encompass the views of everybody.

I also welcome this legislation as I would any legislation that would promote greater safety for workers, employers and the public generally. The Minister's greatest task here will be to instil in the minds of the community the real danger that exists in the handling of some of these dangerous substances. All of us see day after day the absolute carelessness which the public display towards the lethal power that is in many of the substances they are handling. There is a real need for an awakening of public interest in this field.

There are two fields to which the Minister should direct his attention. Transport of highly dangerous substances becomes a major problem on our highways and on our narrow county roads which are not suitable. Because of their unsuitability and because of the traffic density on such roads, the danger is all the greater. I am sure the Minister is aware of the anxiety of people in urban areas about the storage, loading and unloading of very large quantities of cylinders of gas and other substances. While existing legislation does, to some extent, provide some controls in this field, the public anxiety should be allayed by the Minister at this time. In every town or village in Ireland today huge trucks are being loaded and unloaded and those cylinders are tossed around as if they were mere toys. When one considers the colossal tragedies that could result from carelessness one realises the necessity for statutory regulations. In regard to the storage of very large quantities of gas, due to its widespread consumption today, the Minister should thoroughly investigate the desirability of having it well protected and safeguarded so that the resident community in cities, urban and other areas have the assurance that risks have been reduced to a minimum.

I also welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister on introducing this legislation. We all agree on the need for safety in the handling of dangerous substances and I am sure this legislation will be welcomed by the people working in this area.

In his opening speech, the Minister said:

...I intend to introduce regulations to cover the transport by road of other dangerous substances which I shall specify, also by regulation.

I am concerned at the movement of these dangerous substances by road, particularly on narrow roads such as those in the west. The Minister is probably aware of the danger on these roads. Two years ago a container with a very dangerous substance fell off a lorry near Portumna, County Galway, and was not discovered for a week. This kind of thing can happen when the road is poorly structured. I would ask the Minister to encourage carriage of these dangerous substances by rail rather than by road. CIE have discontinued the passenger service on many railway lines in the west which has resulted in extra buses travelling on the roads. Surely there should be an opportunity for some of these dangerous substances to be carried by rail? I would like the Minister to comment on that.

I also welcome the advisory council that is to be set up. I hope this council will be able to inform the Minister about and identify other dangerous substances which may be coming on the market. Again, I should like to congratulate the Minister and I welcome the Bill.

I should like to thank Senators for supporting the Bill and for the expeditious way in which they have accepted this Stage. The goodwill expressed for the measure was expected since we all share a common purpose in promoting the safety of persons and property.

Senator Markey made a number of points. I am not sure if he asked me to give him the dangerous substances that had already been designated. I can do that, if he wishes.

I said I looked forward to hearing what they were.

In that case I will have the list circulated later but I will briefly call them out — acetone, acrylonitrile, ammonia, benzene, butane, chlorine, ethanol, ethylacrylate, formic acid, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, hydrogen peroxide solutions, methanol, methyl acrylate, methyl ethyl ketone, nitric acid, solutions of potassium cynaide, potash lye, propane, solutions of sodium cyanide, soda lye sulphuric acid, toluene, xylene, and any mixture of butane and propane. That is the list at the moment.

Senator Markey and other Senators referred to transport, speeds, storage, loading and unloading. Some items were mentioned specifically and I will refer to them. Senator Cranitch referred to the transport of ammonia from Cork to Arklow, which had some press publicity recently. CIE arrangements for the movement of anhydrous ammonia have been drawn up in accordance with the standards laid down in the international convention concerning the transport of dangerous goods by rail—(RID). The special precautions being taken by CIE have safety as the prime overall requirement and include a specially designed train, special tank containers and specially trained staff engaged in the operation. If, however, despite stringent precautions being taken, an accident should occur, co-ordinated emergency procedures have been established following discussions with appropriate Government Departments to deal with such a situation.

Under this Bill, I will have powers to require by-laws to be made in such a situation or in any similar situation. This is a power not existing at the present time. What exists at present is that by-laws must be drafted under the Transport Act, 1950 but I, as Minister for Labour, in the interests of safety and in the interests of safety of workers especially, may now require that such by-laws may be made and, having examined them, I can reject them if they are not adequate or satisfactory.

The delay in the Bill was referred to. Senator Robinson specifically asked for an explanation as to the need for this Bill and what was specifically the difference. I thought I had explained it at the beginning.

I could see the need for it but I could not understand why the Minister was choosing this rather technical way of being able to take the power.

I am surprised that I have to explain this to the Senator.

Be surprised. I do not know everything.

The 1972 Act, if brought in in its entirety, would have created difficulties in another area, as the Senator is no doubt well aware. The purpose of the amendment is that I can bring in parts of the 1972 Act, in other words, the greater part of the 1972 Act, which I could not do because of the subsection being amended here. As I explained at the outset, if I did not move this amendment, the Bill being brought in in its entirety would repeal most of the Explosives Act, 1875. Under that Act the Government in 1972 prescribed sodium chlorate, which is a weedkiller, ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser, and nitro-benzene, to be explosives. These substances are not explosives within the meaning of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972. They would cease to be regarded as explosives if the 1972 Act were brought into operation in its entirety because that would be, then, amending or repealing most of the Act of 1875.

The substances I referred to, despite their peaceful uses, have been used as ingredients in bomb making. The security situation demands the continuation of controls in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the Explosives Act, 1875 cannot be repealed at the present time and, obviously, I need this amendment so that I can bring in the greater part of the 1972 Act. I, too, am disappointed in the delay that has taken place. I was amazed and surprised when I assumed office two years ago, that no progress had been made in efforts to bring the Bill into operation during the preceding four or five years. I immediately set about ways and means by which this could be done. This amendment is one of them. I must thank both the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General for their co-operation and assistance in reaching the situation where we can now bring the 1972 Act into operation.

There is another problem here. Large volumes of regulations are required both under dangerous substances and under petroleum. In the petroleum area substantial progress has been made in the last year or so. As I said in my opening speech, last Autumn I made the draft regulations available, asked for comments from interested bodies and parties and such comments were forthcoming and were taken into consideration, and those regulations in the petroleum area are almost ready at this stage. On the dangerous substances end, work is well advanced.

Senator Robinson asked what were the Ministers' intentions regarding transport to Asahi. I intend to include this substance in the 25 substances which will be declared by order to be dangerous substances under section 24 of the 1972 Act. I also intend to make regulations in the near future to deal with the packaging, labelling, transport, loading, unloading and storage of the 25 substances to be declared dangerous and acrylonitrile will, therefore, come within the scope of these regulations. It should be mentioned, however, that a stringent code of safety measures, including emergency procedures, is in operation to control the carriage of acrylonitrile by rail between Dublin and Ballina and by road from Ballina to Killala. It should also be mentioned that I now have power under section 62 (3) of the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972, to require a railway undertaker, as in this case, to make under statutory powers by-laws governing conveyance, loading and unloading. The body transporting, conveying, loading or unloading are compelled to make these by-laws under the Act.

Senator Dowling raised a number of points including the dumping of dangerous substances. The dumping of such substances is a matter for the environment, but the Minister for Labour is concerned with the conveyance and loading of any such substances. The Senator also referred to the transporting, loading and unloading, and expressed very genuine concern that must be shared by us all. He mentioned unlawfully interfering, or tampering with dangerous substances. This is very serious and is an existing offence under the Factories Act, 1955. The loading and unloading of dangerous substances will be covered by regulations made under the Act. That is a valid point.

The advisory council have been referred to. I, too, laid great emphasis on this council. It is important that they be strong and representative, that the best possible advise be available to the Minister of the day regarding the various operations to which I have referred, and to the various substances that are in existence and used at present or that may be used in the future.

Senator Kitt referred to the movement of dangerous substances. As I said, in the regulations I hope to provide that as far as practicable the safest routes will be selected for the conveyance of any such substances. He will appreciate—he recommended the use of rail rather than road—that this is not possible in all cases because railroads do not exist in all parts of the country. That covers most of the points. On the petroleum regulations, notices appeared in the papers last autumn, submissions were made by the interested parties and as a result of that operation these regulations are almost ready.

May I thank Senators for their support and concern and assure them that this and other safety matters will always be a concern of mine during my time as Minister?

Due to the fact that there are 25 dangerous substances listed at present, could the Minister give us an idea as regards the penalties and the nature of the penalties for contravention of the regulations?

Mr. G. FitzGerald

Does the Senator wish me to read it to the House?

It would be no harm, if it is readily available.

Contravention of any provision of the Act, any instrument made under it, or any condition attached to a licence, will be an offence under section 47. Occupiers and licensees will be guilty of an offence in respect of contraventions connected with premises, except where it is a contravention of a duty expressly imposed on some other person and where the occupier or licensee took all reasonable steps to prevent contravention under section 48. Does the Senator want me to go through the penalties in detail?

Briefly, what are the penalties?

Forgery, for example, could be an important area. A person who forges a licence or certificate or anything of that nature, is covered under section 50. An important section of the 1972 Act is section 52 because where no express penalty is provided, the penalty on summary conviction for an offence will be a fine of up to £100 or a month's imprisonment, or both. The penalty for continuing offences will be £20 per day.

Is it not ironic that the penalties for dangerous substances are much lighter than the penalties for breaches of the Health (Family Planning) Bill that went through this House yesterday?

I cannot assume any responsibility for the penalties under that Bill.

Apparently they were more dangerous substances.

I hoped the Minister would give a figure which was probably dated 1972. I hope the penalties will be updated with the legislation.

At this stage, much needs to be done. I am not sure that the penalty clauses are the most important thing, even though they are important.

Senator Moynihan made a very valid point. The biggest difficulty in safety is education. The old saying, familiarity breeds contempt, is true. People can become too happy when they regularly use any particular substance.

Senator Dowling made the point about the importance of the trade union movement, employers and all such bodies continuing to impress on people the importance of safety, the danger of becoming too familiar when using certain substances and, as a result, taking short cuts and risks.

There is a forfeiture clause also. The court may order that anything which was the subject of an offence may be forfeited or may impose in addition any fine or penalty not exceeding the money value of the goods liable to forfeiture. There are some valuable trucks on the road and, in my view, the penalties are adequate in that situation.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.