Comment by: Jeff Watson
Focus area: Chemicals
Regulator concerned: Environment Agency,Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
UKLPG is the trade association for LPG in the UK, representing companies who are producers, distributors, equipment and service providers, and vehicle converters. UKLPG was formed by the merger of the LP Gas Association (LPGA) and the Association for Liquid Gas Equipment and Distributors (ALGED) in January 2008. Its roots are firmly established, with LPGA and ALGED established in 1947 and 1975 respectively. It is dedicated to the safe and effective development of LPG.
We welcome the opportunity to take part in this discussion on the application of COMAH as the LPG industry is not a traditional Chemical Industry; it is a supplier of energy to off gas grid consumers throughout the country.
Our members have raised a number of concerns, some of which have been raised directly with HSE.
Broadly these fall under three headings:
Members have pointed out that that the application of COMAH to some sites is inappropriate, particularly large but diffuse ones where LPG cylinders are the predominant and ones where there may be “domestic” sized bulk LPG vessels but again at a large separation. Large caravan and holiday homes sites have been particularly mentioned.
Whilst members accept the applicability of COMAH to large LPG company sites such as cylinder filling plant and bulk LPG distribution sites where LPG transfer is a continuing activity they have expressed concern on the application of COMAH at sites which store >50 tonnes of LPG but where actual use is low (such as where used as emergency backup). One site where annual consumption of about 40 tonnes and receives perhaps 6 deliveries a year has been raised. This site is well managed and presents very low risk. Inspections to date have been appropriately brief, but the 2012 Intervention Plan suggests that there will be more than 5 days of visits, this is disproportionate.
Members have also commented on
• inconsistency of approach between the various Competent Authorities. (“At each HSE intervention there was to be an EA inspector – one only turned up at ****, and all he seemed bothered about was our bulk diesel storage, which is in a steel double skinned, bunded tank. We have received an action, over failure to have a ‘maintenance & inspection schedule’ for this tank – I really wonder how many businesses actually have such a scheme! The fact that our main site hazard is the 180 or so tonnes of LPG seemed irrelevant – he had to find something and so the diesel tank became the focus of attention under the PUWER Regs.”)
• inconsistency of approach between individual inspectors (“I struggle with the way HSE’s approach to COMAH compliance varies by inspector – there is really no level playing field.”)
• the need to pay for a new inspector to read the notes on their company when there is a change of inspectors leading to unpredictability in their costs.
The cost of implementing COMAH is passed down to the operating company. The actual rate varies between the Agencies involved (HSE, EA and SEPA) but is approximately £150 per hour. Taking the site mentioned above the cost of inspection could be as high as £4500 in one year. Bearing in mind the LPG fuel supply might cost the operator about £600 per tonne inspection may be adding 15% to his energy bills.
It is our understanding that other EU states have very different costing and inspection strategies. Some states charge a fixed fee for initial assessment only; some do not charge at all, some do minimal inspection. The UK method seems unique and is adding a wholly inappropriate burden to UK industry without producing tangible benefit. Indeed it has been said that management time would be much better employed in managing risk than in “crafting their procedures to meet the latest HSE thinking.”