Ten years after the introduction of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 ("COMAH"), the Health and Safety Executive, Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (together the Competent Authority ("CA")) have reviewed their approach to the regulation of major accident hazards.

As a result of this review the CA has published some guidance detailing a change of approach in some areas. These areas have been broadly categorised by the CA as their strategic direction, the approach to the assessment of revised safety reports, the approach to inspection, and investigation and enforcement.

Strategic direction

The CA have made various management changes, particularly appointing a Strategic Management team. The CA has announced that this will enable better monitoring of performance and the giving of clearer guidance. The focus is to be placed upon the poorest performers. By setting strategic priorities the CA hope to ensure that national priorities are considered during the inspection process.

Assessment of revised safety reports

The CA state that they will deploy more resources during the inspection phase, leading to increased numbers of site inspections. They have also introduced a new timetable for the assessment process. The CA will look to engage with site management six months before the safety report is submitted, providing information as to what is expected and to what standard. After receipt, the CA staff will conduct inspections to test the measures and procedures set out in the safety report and check that the expectations set out at the six month meeting have been met. Five year reviews of safety reports will increasingly be carried out by site visits. The stated intention is to reduce the need for repeated requests for further information, a move away from desk-top assessment and to shorten the assessment process.

The approach to inspection

As well as increasing the amount of inspections carried out by the CA, it is intended that inspections will be carried out by multi-disciplinary teams in order to verify as far as possible the safety management arrangements in the safety report. Industries should notice increasing inspection by specialists verifying what is taking place on site. This will enable the CA to target required improvements. The intention is to help sites to ensure their reports contain the correct information at the earliest possible stage. The CA state that a "key goal" is to adopt a single team inspection approach where appropriate.

Investigation and enforcement

The CA have not announced significant changes to their approach following an incident at a COMAH establishment. However the CA have looked to make the process more efficient, particularly by updating their procedures with the aim of fostering joint working between the constituent parts of the CA. They will update the COMAH Manual guidance in relation to prohibition notices. The CA will also look to improve the early dissemination of "lessons learned" from incidents and investigations and recommendations on future preventative measures (whilst taking care not to prejudice potential legal proceedings).

Comment

The CA's proposed changes clearly involve a fine-tuning of the processes developed over the previous ten years. The law has not changed, and the CA's key aims remain the same. However the CA hope that the proposed changes will lead to a more efficient and streamlined system of regulation, with more human contact between sites and inspectors.