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
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.
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.
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.
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
Local Training and Enterprise Councils have information about free
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
Director of Environment Protection
Official Agency Statement on Year 2000 computing issues