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The Better Regulation Executive (BRE) review

Inspectors on site

As part of its ‘Focus on Enforcement’ programme, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' Better Regulation Executive (BRE), reviewed the COMAH regime in the chemical manufacturing and warehousing sector in England and Wales.

"In response to the review of the Chemicals (COMAH) sector in England and Wales, the joint Competent Authority has put in place a substantial programme which has the potential to deliver real transformational change for the sector. One particularly welcome feature of this programme are the steps taken by the joint Competent Authority to fully involve industry representatives in the changes that are being made. BIS/BRE have already seen good progress achieved against the delivery plan and look forward to seeing the implemented changes becoming embedded as 'business as usual' to the wider benefit of the COMAH sector in England and Wales."

Better Regulation Executive

The review and findings

Since 2012, the UK Government’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) - Better Regulation Executive (BRE) have been working to identify improvements to the way regulation is enforced.  The ‘Focus on Enforcement’ reviews, have been strongly welcomed by industry and regulators.

Focusing on industries experiences of the COMAH regime in the chemical manufacturing and warehousing sector, BRE looked at business’s interactions with the COMAH Competent Authority (CA) in England and Wales to uncover the impact and consequences of the existing enforcement approach and also identify areas of good practice and those that stakeholders feel could be improved.

The BRE Review team published their final report in January 2013


The review found that businesses were supportive of the regulations, recognising their value in providing a licence to operate. Businesses also reported the high quality of the regulators and the historically strong relationship between CA and the COMAH sector. The review report also highlighted areas of improvement. These were:

  • Setting out the CA’s regulatory approach and performance standards
  • Visible joins in the Competent Authority
  • Removing unnecessary duplication from the overlap in regulatory activity between the Environmental Permitting (EPR) and COMAH regimes
  • Improving businesses understanding of the regulations, easing the transition into COMAH
  • Recognising and taking account of business performance
  • Inconsistencies in enforcement
  • Availability and transparency of challenge mechanisms

More detailed information on the work of BRE is available along with a review of BRE’s ‘Focus on Enforcement’.

The Competent Authority (CA) response

The CA response to the BRE Review builds upon previous improvements delivered by the COMAH Remodeling Programme, which focused on delivering good regulatory practice and also provided support to helping businesses understand the CA’s approach to regulating COMAH.

The changes identified as part of the CA’s response to the BRE Review report, will make further and significant improvements to the arrangements for regulating onshore major hazards, reducing any unnecessary burdens on business whilst securing the protection of people and the environment from major accidents. SEPA has also participated in this work in order to provide a link with the Scottish Government’s existing regulatory reform agenda, which will form the basis of any changes in Scotland.

The outcome of the CA’s action plan means that COMAH Operators will:

  • see simplified and, where appropriate, reduced regulatory interactions which remove unnecessary duplication from the overlap between health, safety and environmental regulatory regimes
  • have a single point of contact in the CA, and know what standards of performance they can expect from the regulators
  • better understand how the major accident hazards they create and their performance in controlling major accident risks influences the scale and depth of regulatory scrutiny they can expect, and how they can provide the regulators with greater assurance about their arrangements for managing and controlling those risks
  • have greater confidence in the CA’s cost recovery mechanisms for its regulatory activities and better understand the interrelationships between different approaches
  • have greater confidence in the arrangements for challenging regulatory and cost recovery decisions
  • be able to make better informed decisions about choosing to expand their business operations to move them within the scope of the COMAH regime, or to move from lower to top-tier COMAH status
  • be involved in the development of any improvements in approach to COMAH Safety Reports which will be introduced as part of the measures to transpose the Seveso III directive into UK law in June 2015

What has been done so far?

In February 2013, the CA began the substantial programme of work to develop and implement the improvements businesses wanted to see. In delivering their response the CA continues to work closely with BIS/BRE and industry representatives to achieve significant progress against the Action Plan. Here, the CA has:

Established the COMAH Strategic Forum

Established a new forum, chaired by industry, to provide active and pragmatic engagement at a strategic level between industry and the CA, enabling mutually beneficial solutions to be identified for a range of emerging issues affecting the sector.

COMAH Intervention Managers

Put in place new arrangements for COMAH Intervention Managers (CIM) and enhanced intervention planning to improve joint working between regulators, removing unnecessary duplication from the overlap between regulatory activities under COMAH and environmental permitting (EPR). The CIM will be at the centre of delivering the intervention plan for every COMAH site and where applicable, this will mean coordinating relevant input from environmental regulators.

This role is not an additional layer of management; it is about capturing current good practice with the aim of improving predictability, transparency and consistency.  The full benefits of this work will become visible to businesses from October 2014 onwards.

Coordinated COMAH Intervention Plans and EPR Compliance Action Plans (England & Wales)

Enhanced the intervention planning process so that in England and Wales, COMAH Operators will for the first time receive a copy of their Compliance Action Plan in respect of EPR activities planned for their COMAH establishments. The COMAH Intervention Plan and EPR Compliance Action Plan will be sent at the same time to COMAH Operators and both documents are screened to remove unnecessary duplication from the overlap between regulatory activities under COMAH and EPR.

Establishing a new Challenge Mechanism

Worked to improve businesses confidence in the process for challenging decisions which the Competent Authority make that they disagree with, or simply do not understand. Here the new arrangements will provide for independent advice, and clarify how existing arrangements can support businesses through this process.

Published ‘Understanding COMAH - What To Expect From The Competent Authority’

Published a simple guide, which is the first step towards improving businesses understanding of how the CA delivers its responsibilities. The leaflet also sets out the performance standards which apply to CA work.

Published ‘Understanding COMAH – A Guide for New Entrants’

Published a simple guide that sets out the basic requirements of COMAH, enabling businesses to make better informed decisions about increasing their inventories of dangerous substances to levels that would bring them into COMAH.

COMAH Safety Reports

Agreed changes to the processes around submission and assessment of safety reports that will be introduced from 1 June 2015 at the same time as the COMAH 2015 Regulations (Seveso III). In general, the changes will result in the CA spending less time assessing the changes to 5 year revised safety reports and making resource available, when required, for the assessment of modification reports.

Looking ahead, the CA will continue to develop and embed the improvements it has committed to delivering, and with industry representatives is fully engaged in helping to shape the changes.

How will Seveso III affect BRE work?

The Seveso II Directive will be superseded by the Seveso III Directive, which means that in June 2015 the current COMAH Regulations will be superseded by COMAH 2015. The CA’s response to the BRE Review takes account of changes expected as a result of Seveso III implementation.

Updated: 2016-04-26