Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Chemical Industries Association (HSE 11)


  The chemical industry has a major interface with HSE and we have developed a good working relationship in relevant areas.

  In general, we are satisfied with the existing HSC/E methods of operation and the tripartite structure of HSC. We believe that current procedures work well, though there are opportunities for improvement and development.

  The UK record on occupational safety performance is among the best in Europe; further improvement will require a combination of approaches. We fully support the increased efforts by HSE to reduce occupational illness.

  CIA strongly opposed the introduction of charges for COMAH-related authorisation and inspection activities, but the Government was determined to go ahead with this. We now aim to be represented on the industry liaison forum on charging to ensure that the charging regime is fair to our member companies.

  We have some concerns about possible moves by HSE to demonstrate that it is a tough regulator. We recognise that HSE has to respond to political pressure on this, but there are dangers that, if clumsily handled, it could prejudice constructive relationships with operators.


  We support the continued existence of HSC as an independent, tripartite body.

  The status of HSC as an independent statutory body provides a helpful separation of health and safety issues from both central Government and employers. We also believe that the separation of the Commission from the Executive arm is beneficial, in the same way that the Board of Directors of a company is separate from the day-to-day operations.

  The tripartite structure is important because it brings consensus on health and safety issues so that policy is commonly owned; this encourages reasoned discussion and debate, which is particularly valuable in setting standards and developing work programmes, and has resulted in affected parties being consulted on equal terms on new legislation at an early stage in its development.

  We see clear advantages in having the health and safety functions undertaken by HSE within a single organisation. Inspectors can fulfil several different roles in one visit, for example inspection, investigation and information provision. Inspectors also have a large body of expertise to draw on which enables them to exercise discretion by taking issues back to consider with colleagues. We would emphasise the need to ensure that the appropriate input and expertise of the Medical Inspectors is employed when health issues are being addressed.


  In general we are satisfied with the existing HSC/E methods of operation: we believe that current procedures work well.

  In its approach to the formulation of legislation, we regard the HSC/E as a model of good practice: consultation documents are generally of a high standard and there is, usually, adequate time for consultees to prepare considered responses.

  Our members value the risk-based and goals-based approaches to regulation adopted by the HSC/E and the open, consultative approach generally adopted by HSE inspectors.

  We believe, however, that there is a great deal of scope for improved working arrangements between HSE and the environment agencies to ensure efficient use of resources and minimise the burden on operators. The UK implementation of the EU Directives on COMAH and IPPC presents opportunities for:

    —  rationalisation of the data required from operators on Safety Reports and IPPC Authorisations;

    —  co-ordination of inspections.

  We also see scope for better co-ordination between Local Authorities and the HSE to ensure consistency of approach.

  A further dimension is the extent to which the implementation of health and safety management systems within industry could reduce the requirement for traditional inspection by HSE.


  The comparative information that is available on occupational safety performance across European countries shows that the UK has the lowest fatal injury rate and the third lowest over-3-day injury rate.

  To maintain and improve on this performance will require a combination of approaches, including:

    —  co-operation with major companies to use their influence with suppliers, customers and contractors to foster the adoption of sound management systems;

    —  targeting of poorly performing sectors.

  Within the chemical industry we are currently devoting a great deal of effort to ensuring that the COMAH regulations are implemented effectively and that there is constructive working between HSE and the operators of COMAH establishments. This process has been adversely affected by the introduction of charging (see below).

  Data on the incidence of occupational illness is less easy to obtain and there is little information on international comparisons.

  CIA is fully supportive of the increased attention that the HSE is now paying to occupational health, through the development of the new strategy.


  CIA strongly opposed the introduction of charges for COMAH-related activities and was disappointed that the Government decided to go ahead with this.

  The responses to the consultations on the HSC/E Quinquennial Review and the COMAH Regulations showed that there was little or no support for the introduction of charges, and we are forced to conclude that COMAH installations were seen as an easy target for revenue generation.

  We fear that this will herald a deterioration in the relationship between the operators of COMAH establishments and the HSE, and that attention will be diverted from major accident hazard control to administration, cost avoidance and confrontation. That impact will bear little relationship to the sums of money involved.

  Our members have already encountered a range of problems in the application of the charging requirements which have served to confirm their concerns that:

    —  there will be inconsistencies among inspectors in deciding what activities are chargeable;

    —  excessive charges will be made for the "office" time of inspectors;

    —  increases are being made to the time programmed to be spent on inspections, with the aim of meeting income targets.

  In addition, we have already been given examples of situations in which a member company, with a history of good relations with its inspector, has decided not to contact him for advice for fear of being charged for it. A regime of charging for all COMAH-related activities will, we fear, damage relationships between HSE and the operators: companies will become increasingly reluctant to initiate contact with the HSE. Such a situation will not foster improved safety performance.

  The justification for the implementation of charging for COMAH activities is, to say the least, dubious, more so for inspection activities and particularly for the inclusion of lower-tier establishments. Charging will be a burden for our member companies, which will bear particularly on the smaller companies.

  The charging regime that has been implemented bears no relation to safey performance: effectively, the COMAH sites will be charged for taking preventive measures while other operators with poorer safety records will be unaffected.

  With the introduction of charging will come an increased expectation that the regulators will operate to high levels of efficiency in their dealings with operators. Our members will not be prepared to pay for the inefficiencies of the regulators. There is thus a new obligation on the regulators to be prepared to demonstrate that they are acting prudently and efficiently in their management and operation of COMAH activities from its implemenation date. For example, we recognise the opportunity for the competent authority to make efficiencies from avoiding duplication of common requirements of COMAH and IPC (IPPC). We would also wish the regulators to demonstrate that the procedures for hiring consultants are effective and ensure value for money.


  Our members are prepared to support an approach to H&S regulation enforcement which targets bad actors and comes down heavily on unacceptable performance. However, we have some concerns about possible moves by HSE to demonstrate that it is a tough regulator. If clumsily handled, this could prejudice the constructive relationships with operators which are essential for performance improvement.

  We have had some direct experience of this recently in our dealings with the Environment Agency which, under similar political pressure, engaged in high profile activities which we regarded as unfair and which were in danger of causing unhelpful reactions by our members. It is essential that any action taken by the HSE to demonstrate its toughness is proportionate to the situation, and that high profile activities are based on accurate information and an even-handed approach.

September 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 26 October 1999