Comment by: Peter Davidson
Focus area: Chemicals
Regulator concerned: Environment Agency,Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
We would like to offer the following comments in relation to the application of the COMAH regulations to high hazard industries in the UK:
COMAH charging – In the UK, COMAH sites have always been subject to charges by the regulator for planned inspection visits and interventions. With COMAH re-modeling, we are expecting a move away from remote assessment of COMAH reports by the Competent Authority (CA) with greater emphasis placed on site visits and inspections. In principle, this is a change we welcome, and we hope it will further improve relationships with the CA, and provide a more effective mechanism for resolving any issues or queries. However, this move toward greater site based inspection will place a significant burden on the CA and industry both in terms of resources and availability.
We believe that industry and the CA can work together to ensure effective and efficient use of resources for scheduled site visits. Clear agenda’s and expectations should be available well in advance of any meeting, and those with the relevant expertise to meet those expectations made available. We should also ensure that duplicate requests for information are avoided, as this diverts valuable time away from the key activity of managing, and regulating, process and environmental safety at COMAH sites.
The CA may also take credit for the situation whereby similar sites owned and operated by the same company, may not need the same intensity of inspection on some issues (for example where procedures are shared).
Many of the issues above are endemic of a conceptual single competent authority, which is nonetheless still represented by three regulatory bodies, HSE, EA and SEPA (and soon to be a fourth when a Welsh envioronmental protection agency is established). Each of these bodies has their own inspection teams and specialist advisers, and in many cases there are different priorities and expectations. Whilst we understand that there are initiatives in place to align activities, our experience has shown there to be a lack of coordination. At a site level this is manifested by requests for the same information from different agencies, and site visits that are not coordinated. Of greater concern are the different approaches in terms of policy, particularly on the interpretation and application of the ALARP principle.
We believe that a single CA, providing a single point of contact for industry will deliver significant improvements in terms of cost and efficiency for both the regulator and industry, and suggest that the HSE should take on this role. EA and SEPA could provide specialist knowledge as part of a single inspection entity.