The main aim of the COMAH regulations is to prevent and control the effects of major accidents involving dangerous substances like liquid petroleum gas, explosives and arsenic pentoxide, etc. A ‘“major accident” means an occurrence (including in particular, a major emission, fire or explosion) resulting from uncontrolled developments in the course of the operation of any establishment and leading to serious danger to human health or the environment, immediate or delayed, inside or outside the establishment, and involving one or more dangerous substances’. (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/).
Basically, all establishment owners must prevent major accidents and limit their effects on the environment. In England and Wales, COMAH is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland. These enforcing bodies must prohibit the operation of an establishment if there is evidence that measures taken by the establishment are not in the interests of the safety of people and the environment. The main industries that are under these remits are the chemical industry, nuclear sites and others. The process that identifies the way chemicals can cause harm is called classification. This criteria includes physical hazards (eg explosivity), health hazards (eg an irritant to skin) and environmental hazards (eg harm to aquatic life). As well as these hazards, the supplier/operator must also consider how certain it would be that the chemical would have this effect and how serious the effect might be.
It is the general duty on all operators to prevent major accidents and limit their conequences to the public and environment. Prevention should be based on the principle of reducing risk to a level as low as is reasonably practicable for human risks and using the best available technology not entailing excessive cost for environmental risks.
A new set of COMAH regulations will come into force on 1 June 2015. The Competent Authorities (CA) will make guidance available so that safety reports can be updated by organisations when the new regulations come into force. Important changes to be made include the classification of hazardous substances, more detail about site surroundings and how information is made available to the public. Also, the Competent Authorities are planning to provide an IT system to host public information regarding establishments. Establishments will need to consider that new information will need to be included in major accident prevention policies and off-site emergency plans. Safety reports may need to be updated in line with the forthcoming regulations. A safety report is a document prepared by the site operator and sent to the CA. The safety report demonstrates all the necessary measures that have been taken by the establishment to prevent major accidents, and, should an accident occur, how it will be mitigated so that the public and the environment as least affected.