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Making regulation work

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Major accident hazards are regulated in the UK through the Control of Major Accident Hazards (CoMAH) regulations. CoMAH regulations implement the Seveso II Directive,1 aimed at the prevention and control of onshore major accident hazards involving dangerous substances. CoMAH is enforced by the Competent Authority (CA), which consists of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Natural Resources Wales.

From April 2011 to April 2013, under the government’s Red Tape Challenge, over 21 000 statutory rules and regulations were examined. For industry regulated under CoMAH, the process began with a chemical sector review and an independent review of health and safety legislation.2 Findings were subsequently analysed by the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) as part of its ‘Focus on Enforcement’ programme.

Understanding the issues

CoMAH is a goal setting regime. This means that the CA does not set prescriptive requirements but cites expectations, national and international standards and good practice. Industry is required to demonstrate how it meets these objectives so far as is reasonably practicable.3 While this approach promotes innovative thinking and continuous improvement, assessing and determining what is reasonably practicable and proportionate can be quite complex. To add to this complexity, CoMAH is regulated by four different agencies. The UK Petroleum Industry Association, the Chemical Industries Association, Tank Storage Association and the Chemical Business Association identified a number of areas for improvement:

  • Multiple agencies enforcing the same legislation, duplicating inspection and requests for information.
  • Agencies with different priorities, making targeted improvements difficult.
  • A reduction of in house specialists and growing reliance on consultancy services can lead to confrontation with specialist inspectors.
  • Well performing sites do not always receive recognition when planning inspections.
  • Sites are not always advised on which inspections are planned and how many inspectors will be on site, making planning and budgeting difficult.

To address these issues, recommendations to the BRE programme included the following:

  • Single regulatory contact for CoMAH.
  • Recognition of good performance.
  • Improved appeals’ mechanism.

A single regulatory contact

As part of the BRE programme, a CoMAH Intervention Manager (CIM) role is being developed to provide a single interface for industry on all CoMAH regulatory matters, from safety to the environment. As well as existing regulatory duties, the CIM will be responsible for:

  • Acting as the single point of contact for all safety and environmental regulation under CoMAH.
  • Acting as the project manager for all CoMAH regulatory activities.
  • Developing the CoMAH intervention plan, describing which inspections will take place and when.
  • Facilitating the review of the intervention plan with the site operator.
  • Work with other relevant CA partners to ensure that there is no overlap or duplication with other regulatory regimes.

Recognition of good performance

High hazard industries require regulation and must be subject to some level of intervention to demonstrate that risks are managed appropriately. The concept of recognition of good performance is particularly valuable as it could reduce time and depth necessary for some inspections, and take credit for third party verification schemes as evidence of regulatory compliance. While recognition of good performance may influence the depth of intervention identified in the CoMAH intervention plan, any influence must be based on:

  • Hazard: How dangerous is the site’s activity?
  • Performance: How well does the site score against regulatory priorities?
  • Performance: How well does the site perform against its own performance indicators?
  • Continuous improvement and leadership: Does the site engage in relevant initiatives?

Challenge mechanism

A formal challenge mechanism, allowing site operators to challenge regulatory actions arising from inspections, has also been developed. The challenge mechanism is a four stage process with clear escalation routes:

  • Stage 0: Resolve the issue locally with the site inspector (or CIM) to avoid engaging in the formal challenge process.
  • Stage 1: Challenge reviewed by the inspector’s line manager.
  • Stage 2: Challenge reviewed by the CA area/operations manager. During this particular stage, the challenge may also be considered by the relevant Trade Association.
  • Stage 3: Challenge reviewed by the Independent Review Challenge Panel (IRCP).

Typically, should the site operator wish to purse the challenge past stage 3, a judicial review will have to be sought.

CoMAH Strategic Forum

The CoMAH Strategic Forum, which includes representation from senior officials within the CA, Government and Trade Associations, is currently overseeing the implementation of changes to the regulation of major accident hazards in the UK. The Forum aims to ensure the effective implementation of these changes and determine how best to measure and report their success. Looking ahead, the Forum will continue to review industry and CA’s performance to identify potential strategic and cross sector areas for improvement, commissioning work were appropriate or engaging in dialogue with government.


Changing the way in which regulation is applied is a complex task, requiring stakeholders’ commitment and participation. The CoMAH Strategic Forum will continue to play a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of changes and in measuring their success. The task ahead will require collaboration between industry and regulator, along with continued scrutiny in order to improve performance in process safety. The challenge will be to ensure that changes under the Better Regulation Review deliver both consistency and efficiency for CoMAH.

Written by Peter Davidson, UKPIA. This is an abridged article from Hydrocarbon Engineering’s March 2015 issue.


  1. Council Directive 96/82/EC.
  2. Reclaiming health and safety for all: an independent review of health and safety legislation (Löfstedt report), 28 November 2011.
  3. Refer to the HSE regulatory model for more information:

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