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Major Hazards

Board Owner: Justin McCracken, Deputy Director General Operations


24. HSE is responsible for regulating health and safety across a range of major hazard industries including: nuclear, offshore, onshore (predominantly sites subject to COMAH) railways, gas conveyance and mining.

National Target for Major Hazards

25. HSC/E is developing a national target for Major Hazards.

Proposed National Target for Major Hazards

To reduce still further the likelihood of catastrophic incidents in key major hazard industries regulated by HSE by achieving a sustained reduction in the level of “precursor incidents” occurring in these industries over the period 2004 - 2006.

(A precursor incident is an event or group of events the occurrence of which might indicate failures in control systems relevant to control risks from a major hazard – as such they are the kind of event in the possible chain of causation and avoidance which would be a key element in the prevention of certain catastrophic outcomes.)

Measuring progress

26. The availability of indicators to measure progress with this target varies across the major hazard industries involved. Some indicators, such as hydrocarbon releases offshore or signals passed at danger on our railways are established and are already used by the industries concerned to monitor the effectiveness of relevant control systems. In other areas further work is needed to develop indicators that are indicative of the failure of one of more significant risk control systems; can be confidently used to track the state of an industry; and can help direct HSE’s activities to achieve improvements – noting that not all aspects of risk control are likely to be amenable to this approach.

27. We will seek to develop and agree appropriate indicators with relevant industries and in consultation with them and worker representatives set targets for improvement and monitor progress against these on an agreed basis. Once agreed the details of our approach to measuring progress with each indicator will be set out in a technical note and will be lodged on the HSE website. Progress will be reported in the HSC Annual Report.

Delivery strategy

28. HSE will use this target internally during 2003/4 to confirm the relevance of selected indicators as suitable measures of the effectiveness of safety management and to confirm that HSE can use the information provided to, inter alia, influence improvements in health and safety through targeted activity. While precursor incidents will provide measurable insights into the way major hazards industries are controlling risk, our approach to regulating such incidents will not be the sole basis for our intervention strategy.

29. Demonstrating improved control of major hazards will be the key outcome for this target. Outputs will relate to the inspection and enforcement of major hazard industries and what is necessary to ensure sound controls. HSE will continue to enforce current permissioning regimes, including safety case and licensing regimes and will work with stakeholders including workers and trade unions to ensure standards are maintained. This will be the starting point for delivery of this target.

30. Not all catastrophic events can be predicated by the use of precursor indicators and for this reason programmes of work will not be devised or effectiveness measured on the basis of precursor incidents alone. It is necessary to balance this targeted approach with the continued close regulation of these industries using other forms of assessment based on operational intelligence and expertise.

31. HSE works with other Government Departments and agencies to ensure consistency on policy and operational issues. These include:

32. We will consult all these bodies on the development of indicators relevant to their interests.

HSC Policy Statement on Permissioning

33. For each major hazard industry, HSE must provide “permission”, on the basis of a safety case/report or licence provision, for activities to take place. HSE carries out inspection programmes to determine whether the provisions in the safety case are being adhered to. In the mining industry certain key activities require prior notification to HSE and are regulated by a quasi-permissioning regime where HSE would object if dissatisfied with the information provided. HSC has published a policy statement on permissioning regimes, following consultation with stakeholders. This policy statement contains the principles underlying HSC’s approach and will be used as a benchmark in reviewing and developing the existing permissioning regimes.

Resource allocations for major hazards work

34. Approximately £45m of HSE staff resource (34% of HSE staff by salaries) is allocated to ensuring the safe operation of major hazard industries.

Pie shart showing planned allocation of staff resource to the Major Hazards Block (by % salaries)Long description available

35. This resource is divided across the four major hazard groups HSE has responsibility for as shown:

Pie shart showing planned allocation of staff resource within the Major Hazards Block (by % salaries)Long description available

36. The rest of this chapter summarises how HSE will develop indicators for the major hazards target and what action is being taken to regulate major hazards. More information can be found on the HSE website.

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Portrait photograph of Alan Osborne Alan Osborne
Director Rail Safety

What we aim to achieve

HSE is exploring with all its stakeholders indicators complementary to HSE’s current rail strategy to monitor improvements in Rail safety and contribute to the overall target. The final indicators will be agreed with industry and are likely to relate to: Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs); Track Compromised (eg broken rails or landslips); Derailments; Vandalism; or Level Crossings incidents.

What we aim to do

HSE is working with all stakeholders to maintain an effective and efficient framework for continuously improving health and safety on Britain’s railways. The safety case regime will continue to be central to our interface with the industry. We are working with industry stakeholders and regulators such as the Strategic Rail Authority and the Office of the Rail Regulator to ensure activities do not conflict and to secure mutual health and safety benefits. The last 10 years have seen a downward trend in accidents on the railways – our purpose is to ensure this continues. Our 5 point strategy to achieve this is to

Pie chart showing planned resource allocation to rail safety (by % salaries) 27%

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Portrait photograph of Lawrence Williams Laurence Williams
Director Nuclear Safety

What we aim to achieve

What we aim to do

HSE’s mission for this industry is to secure effective control of health, safety and radioactive waste management at nuclear sites for the protection of the public and workers. Our strategy is to:

pie chart showing planned resource allocation to nuclear safety (by % salaries) 34%

For more information go to

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Offshore Safety

Portrait photograph of Chris Wilby Chris Willby
Director Hazardous Installations

What we aim to achieve

What we aim to do

HSE ensures that risks to people, who work offshore in the upstream petroleum industry are properly controlled. It does this primarily through the assessment and verification of safety cases supported by a programme of inspection, focused activity on assessment, investigation, enforcement, advice and education. The core of the offshore safety regime is the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 1992. During 2003/04 we intend to bring forward proposals to revise these Regulations, to improve their effectiveness while reducing associated bureaucracy.

pie chart showing planned resource allocation to offshore safety (by % salaries) 21%

For more information go to

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Onshore Safety

What we aim to achieve

What we aim to do


HSE aims to prevent and mitigate major chemical incidents that could harm people and the environment. HSE will pursue its statutory duties: assessing safety reports; prohibiting operations where there are serious deficiencies; investigating major accidents, making recommendations for future prevention; notifying the EC of major accidents; implementing an inspection programme and providing advice on land use planning in respect of risks from major accidents.

Gas Safety and Major Hazard Pipelines

The Gas Safety (Management) Regulations operate a safety case regime, to ensure risks arising from conveying gas are adequately controlled. Work is underway to amend current regulations to incorporate the outcome of a recent consultation exercise and relevant recommendations arising from the fundamental review of gas safety. New Regulations should be in place by late 2003. HSE assesses the safety of major hazard pipelines by examining their design and integrity under the Pipeline Safety Regulations 1996.


HSE’s Mines Inspectorate will continue to ensure risks to persons who work in underground mining and related activities are properly controlled. Its inspection programme will cover all types of mining activity concentrating on those where potential for major hazards affect a large number of people such as explosion protection. Due to the already low number of reportable dangerous occurrences in the mining industry Mines will not contribute to the target for major hazards.

Pie chart showing planned resource allocation to onshore safety (by % salaries) 18%

For more information go to

Updated 2019-07-19