Controlling Hazards and Major Accidents

When dealing with extremely dangerous substances that can cause major accidents extreme care must be taken to avoid any of these accidents occurring. Consequently to avoid this happening there is specific legislation put in place detailing the various duties then need to be undertaken when dealing with these substances.

Control of Major Accident Hazards (Amendment) Regulations 2005

The Control of Major Accident Hazards (Amendment) regulations or COMAH came into effect in June 2005 providing various amendments to the already existing Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999.

The 1999 Regulations implemented the EU Directive which was known as the Seveso II Directive and replaced the Control of Industrial Major Hazards Regulations 1984.

The Regulations are in place in order to prevent major accidents or limit the consequences for the people who live in the vicinity of establishments that hold or use specified substances.

Application of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations

The Regulations apply to any establishment where a dangerous substance listed in Schedule 1 of the Regulations is present in a quantity equal to or exceeding the quantity listed in the entry for that substance, i.e. the specified threshold.

Most commonly the Regulations apply to the following industries, facilities or sites:

  • Chemical Industry
  • Storage sites for explosives
  • Nuclear sites
  • Certain other storage facilities
  • Other industries where dangerous substances in the quantities provided by the specified thresholds are used

Section 3(2) of the 1999 Regulations specifies the circumstances not covered by the Regulations. They regulations do not cover the presence of dangerous substances in the following circumstances:

  • the transport of those substances and their intermediate temporary storage by road, rail, inland waterways, sea or air, including their loading and unloading and transport to and from another means of transport at docks, wharves and marshalling yards
  • the transport of those substances in a pipeline or pumping station          

Which Substances are Considered Dangerous?

Named Substances

Schedule 1 of the 1999 Regulations as amended by the 2005 names substances as dangerous. Examples of named substances are as follows:

  • Ammonium nitrate

  • Oxygen

  • Hydrogen

  • Formaldehyde

  • Halogens

  • Petroleum products

Categories of Substances

Schedule 1 of the 1999 Regulations as amended by the 2005 Regulations provides a list of categories to which the named substances will fall into. Examples are as follows:

  • Toxic

  • Oxidising

  • Explosive

  • Flammable

  • Dangerous for the environment

  • Carcinogens

Threshold Quantities

Schedule 1 of the 1999 Regulations as amended by the 2005 Regulations provides the threshold quantities of the named dangerous substances.

Obligations

The operators of those sites dealing with dangerous substances in the threshold quantities specified in the Regulations have obligations in relation to both information and notification and risk assessments.

Information and Notification

The operator of a business or site dealing with the dangerous substance will have to provide notification of the site to both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency prior to construction of the site.

Any additional information must be sent to both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency prior to the start of the operation.

This information will have to contain the following:

  • Information concerning the dangerous substance which is present
  • The activity or the proposed activity of the site
  • Details of the environment in the immediate vicinity of the site which may be liable to cause a major accident or aggravate the factors in an already existing accident

Risk Assessment

It is the duty of the operator of business or site dealing with the site to undertake a through risk assessment to understand the causes of particular accidents associated with the dangerous substance and to try and prevent those accidents occurring. When undertaking a valid risk assessment the following factors should be taken into account:

  • The possible causes of a major accident
  • The potential consequences of a major accident
  • Should a major accident occur what steps would be necessary to minimise the effects on the local people and the local environment

Major Accident Prevention Policy

Following the through risk assessment each operator of a site or premises prepare and keep a document setting out the policy in respect of preventing major incidents and details of the safety management system which has been put in place.

Following this the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency must be notified if any of the following circumstances occur:

  • An increase in the quantities of the dangerous substance stored on site
  • A change in the nature of the physical form of the dangerous substance
  • A change in the way that the dangerous substance is processed