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GUIDANCE FOR BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY

Newid Iaith / Welsh Version

millenium bug!

POLLUTION THREAT FROM THE MILLENNIUM BUG
Results of a Survey on the Preparations of Industry

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

Results of a recent survey by the Environment Agency show that the millennium bug poses a serious threat to the environment and has the potential to cause environmental damage unless companies take preventative action now. More than half of the companies surveyed still have significant amounts of work to do.

The findings support reports by Action 2000 - that some companies do not understand the problem sufficiently and are not taking action quickly enough to counteract the bug.

In the past there have been severe pollution incidents caused by systems failure. There is the potential for millennium bug related systems failures to cause severe damage to ecosystems and rivers, releases of noxious fumes and effects on drinking water supplies. Two of the key industry sectors the utilities and the chemical industry are the best prepared, according to the results, but even these have work to do. Other manufacturing industries and the agricultural industry are less well prepared and need to take more action quickly if they are to reduce the risk of causing pollution due to the millennium bug.

The Agency will not regard a millennium bug related system failure as mitigating circumstances in the event of an environmental incident, and companies must take action to ensure that such an occurrence does not happen as a result of the bug.

INTRODUCTION

The millennium bug could cause companies to pollute, resulting in serious damage to the environment. Companies would face clean up costs and could be prosecuted in such circumstances.

Many environmental management and protection systems are controlled by computers and include embedded microprocessors. A pollution event may happen if the bug disrupts systems and leads to uncontrolled releases of harmful substances. The risk to the environment can be reduced if companies take timely action to make sure critical systems are compliant, and to ensure that if systems do fail this does not lead to environmental damage.

The Environment Agency has carried out a survey of regulated companies to assess their programmes to deal with the millennium bug. The results indicate a high level of awareness of the bug, but some action programmes appear inadequate to address all the problems, or are running late.

SURVEY METHOD

During routine site visits and inspections, Agency field officers asked a sample of regulated companies about their preparations to deal with the millennium bug. Over 400 companies were surveyed during the period November 1998 to February 1999. Companies were assessed for:

  • awareness of the problem;
  • audits of systems that could lead to environmental damage if they fail;
  • progress on compliance;
  • contingency plans and checks with suppliers of goods and services.

Each company's response was categorised as poor, medium or good.

ANALYSIS OF RESULTS

The chart shows the results of the survey, comparing industrial sectors' states of readiness for the Year 2000. Overall 42% were classified as "good" in terms of overall preparedness.

Click here to view bar chart

The results indicate industry has a high level of awareness of the problem, and 86% of companies have set up a Year 2000 project. 76% had carried out an audit of environmentally critical systems, but fewer included embedded processors in the audit (71%) and just over half have carried out risk assessments of affected systems (57%).

However, the survey identified that more needs to be done. At the time of the survey, nearly half of the companies questioned had not started to make their environmentally critical systems compliant. The Government has recommended that compliance programmes are ready by 1 September 1999. Dates later than this give little margin for slippage in implementation, testing and dealing with any problems. However, over 20% of those who quoted dates admitted that they will not have made all their environmentally critical systems compliant by September 1999, and 15 % of those who supplied information about their most hazardous or at risk systems reported that these systems would not be compliant by that date.

The majority of companies questioned (60%) have made contingency plans for the Year 2000. However, some of these plans appear incomplete. While half believe that they depend on external goods and services for their environmentally critical systems, not all have checked that supplies will be unaffected and only a third have alternative sources of supply.

CONCLUSIONS

The survey indicated a high level of awareness of the millennium bug and most companies have set up projects to address it. However, many of these programmes are not adequately addressing all potential problems, and a proportion are running late. The survey highlights the fact that many companies still have a great deal of work to do, but the Agency believes that there is still sufficient time for industry to take action to prevent pollution. The Agency will not regard a millennium bug related system failure as mitigating circumstances in the event of an environmental incident. The Agency's staff can provide businesses with sources of further information to help them address this very important issue.

FURTHER INFORMATION AND HELP

  • Action 2000 can provide further information - ring their hotline on 0845 601 2000.
  • Local Training and Enterprise Councils have information about free government-funded courses.
  • The HSE issues a number of leaflets which give guidance on checking systems for health and safety. These can also be used to check for environmental risks. These are available by calling 01787 881165, or on the world wide web at: www.open.gov.uk/hse/dst/2000indx.htm .

Paul Leinster
Director of Environment Protection

Official Agency Statement on Year 2000 computing issues


E-mail:- graham.winter@environment-agency.gov.uk
Copyright © 1999 Environment Agency. All Rights Reserved.