The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 2015 (the Regulations) came into force on 1 June 2015. The Regulations replace COMAH 1999 and represent the first major overhaul of the COMAH regime for 16 years, as well as bringing more businesses within its remit and imposing additional duties on existing duty-holders.

The Regulations implement the EU Seveso III Directive [1], which controls major on-shore hazards involving dangerous substances. Their objective is to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances and to limit the effects of any such accidents that do occur, both on people and the wider environment.  

The Regulations most obviously affect the chemicals and petrochemicals industries but also apply to other businesses and organisations handling, storing or using certain quantities of substances with hazardous classifications. Nuclear sites and explosives are covered. The Regulations are also applicable to neighbouring landowners, local authorities and emergency services.

There are a number of changes from COMAH 1999 which operators, emergency planners and other COMAH duty-holders need to be aware of. The principal changes are:

  • the list of substances covered by the Regulations has been updated and has been brought into line with the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation 2008 (CLP). CLP is based on a global classification system for chemicals. This is a significant change, meaning existing site operators and duty-holders will need to revisit their inventories and reclassify accordingly
  • some definitions around substances and their uses have changed
  • transitional arrangements for safety reports have been included
  • members of a domino group will be required to co-operate with neighbouring sites and share relevant information (i.e. where there is an increase in risk or consequences of a major accident because of one or more of factors such as geographical position, proximity of establishments and inventories of dangerous substances)
  • enhanced requirements for public information, including a duty for lower-tier establishments to provide public information and for electronic access to up to date information
  • emergency planning and testing of the emergency plan now requires co-operation from designated authorities
  • there will be stronger requirements for the Competent Authority on inspection
  • local authorities are now required to inform people likely to be affected by major accidents.

Every site of a business needs to determine whether or not they fall within the scope of the Regulations and to notify (or re-notify) the Competent Authority by 1 June 2016. Upper-tier COMAH sites must prepare a safety report which demonstrates this. Existing COMAH sites that have safety reports due before 1 June 2016 are encouraged to write them in a way that is compliant with the Regulations.

We can help you do this by:

  • checking whether your COMAH status is likely to change, e.g. you move within or out of scope, or from lower to upper tier
  • considering what new information you may need to include in major accident prevention policies and off-site emergency plans
  • advising on how to provide the summary of public information that will be provided electronically
  • reviewing what you need to do to comply with the requirements and submissions of safety reports and advising, in particular, on what new information may be required.

Why COMAH is needed – and the consequences of non-compliance – was tragically borne out by a recent case. Total UK Limited has been fined £1.4 million following a major fire at an oil refinery in North Lincolnshire, which caused the death of a worker. An HSE investigation found that the fire was caused by an uncontrolled release of crude oil. The deceased was a contracted fitter who was working with a colleague beneath a distillation column that contained hot crude oil. When an item of equipment was opened, the oil escaped and, shortly afterwards, ignited.

Total pleaded guilty to breaching COMAH 1999.

Commenting on the fine the HSE emphasised that the accident could have been prevented had Total followed well-established principles of risk assessment. The task being undertaken was a simple but the magnitude of the risk was great. It should have been identified before the task was started and appropriate action taken to eliminate or control the risk.