Role of HSE in Civil contingencies and cross-government emergency planning work


This guidance sets out HSE's role in civil contingency work and in the central government emergency planning process.


The Government's aim is to reduce the risk from emergencies so that people can go about their business freely and with confidence. Emergency responders support this by taking decisions and actions in line with objectives that, at the highest level, will be to:

  • protect life,
  • contain and mitigate the impacts of the emergency and
  • create the conditions for a return to normality

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) establishes a framework for emergency planning and response from local to national level, including the provision of temporary emergency regulations and HSE has a role to play in this process.

For more information on CCA see Appendix 1.


Staff who are involved in responding to a civil contingency event or who contribute to civil contingency planning should be aware of HSE's role as a Category 2 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and of the cross government emergency planning arrangements (see Appendix 2).


HSE's main role is set out in the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) ie to act as the regulator to ensure that health and safety risks from work activities are correctly assessed and managed. HSE has a duty to provide advice on how the Act may be complied with.

In addition to this HSE has a duty as a Category 2 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and (Contingency Planning) Regulations 2005, with a duty to provide relevant specialist (technical, regulatory or scientific) advice, including information on the nature of any potential hazards of the site/organisation. For more information see Appendix 1.

HSE's Chemicals, Explosives and Microbiological Hazards Division (CEMHD) and Energy Division (ED) regulate the Control of Major Accident Regulations 2015 (COMAH) and the Pipeline Safety Regulations 1996 (PSR), which cover a particular set of risks excluded from consideration under civil protection legislation and have their own legislative requirements relating to emergency arrangements including preparation of external plans.

HSE will be required to respond to certain types of major incidents or emergencies. These can be related to an industrial incident, such as the explosions and fire at the Buncefield Oil depot in 2005, or to Civil Contingency Events which are incidents where the scale or complexity of the emergency is such that some degree of central government support or coordination is necessary, for example the response to the Salisbury Contamination Incidents of 2018.

It is important that when required to do so, HSE responds appropriately and proportionately to emergencies. HSE has arrangements in place, in accordance with its regulatory responsibilities under HSWA and its duties as a Category 2 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act, to prepare for and respond effectively to emergencies.

HSE's response or Concept of Operations (ConOps) in the case of an industrial related incident (or if COBR is called and HSE is required to attend), can be found in the HSE Response to a major incident or civil contingency event


HSE works with government departments and others to play our part in central government work to plan for emergencies and to coordinate response to major disruptive challenges. For more information see Appendix 3.

The role of operational divisions – emergency planning and preparedness

Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) are made up of Category 1 and 2 responders under the CCA.  They work at a local level to plan for emergencies to enable an effective multi-agency response to incidents which may have a significant impact on their communities. This section provides information to operational staff on how to respond on behalf of HSE to requests from LRFs for:

  • Assistance with risk assessments and information HSE holds (Mandatory)
  • HSE attendance at meetings and involvement in exercises (Discretionary)

FOD Deputy Directors (DDs) represent the whole of HSE within their geographical region and are the Lead HSE representative (unless delegated to other staff along with the authority to commit HSE resource). They manage the delivery of HSE assistance in resilience planning work and may attend strategic - or multi - LRF meetings as required.

For practical purposes where agreed in the Division, CEMHD or ED staff may act as lead representatives and attend LRFs or its sub-groups:

  • LRF Chief Officer Group: HSE is usually represented by FOD Band 1 operational managers. Attendance is optional but recommended when there are items of interest to HSE
  • LRF: This is a local forum where HSE may be represented by operational inspectors and or Regulatory Compliance Officers. Attendance is optional but recommended when there are agenda items relevant to HSE. LRFs often cover issues that are of limited relevance to HSE and there are often LRF sub-groups where HSE representation may be more appropriate eg major hazard and risk assessment groups.

The Lead HSE Representative, in liaison with CEMHD / ED Heads of Unit where relevant, appoints HSE staff for the coordination of input from HSE to LRF sub groups or working groups and provides the focal point for resolving issues raised. Resilience meetings may reflect a multi-area/ capability approach and attendance may span HSE divisions.

Although CEMHD and ED provide the routine contact with LRFs, FOD may need to be involved if there are FOD relevant matters. For instance, if HSE are invited to attend incident debriefs involving FOD sites (eg following a fire) cross division liaison will be needed.

Where issues raised by HSE at LRFs have not been resolved, the Lead HSE representative should consider seeking advice from Emergency Planning Unit (EPU) / HSE Civil Contingencies Coordinator.

HSE's involvement at LRF meetings is not mandatory, however if specifically invited on an area of interest to HSE and there is a need for HSE input, we should make all reasonable efforts to attend.

For more information, see Cabinet Office guidance 'Emergency Preparedness: Co-operation'

The role of the Emergency Planning Unit (EPU)

EPU works with others across HSE to ensure that arrangements are in place to support the delivery of HSE's response to major incidents and civil contingency events. This includes:

  • Maintaining the Duty Officer system to provide a 24/7, 365 days a year, out of hours response facility
  • Providing HSE staff with procedures, guidance, training and exercising in major incident and emergency response;
  • Ensuring HSE contributes to central government civil contingency planning effectively and proportionately, in accordance with its duties under HSWA and as a Category 2 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004;
  • Acting as a central coordination point in HSE for other government departments for civil contingency related issues;
  • Coordinating the HSE response to a civil contingency event for which government emergency arrangements procedures have been activated.

Further Information

Cabinet Office has created a lexicon (or glossary) to establish common, agreed definitions for terms used in the non-statutory guidance Emergency Response and Recovery.

HSE response to a major incident or civil contingency event


Emergency Planning Unit, Redgrave Court, Bootle

Appendix 1 - Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA)

The Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004 sets the framework for emergency planning and response from local to national level, including the provision of temporary emergency regulations.

The CCA defines an emergency as:

  • an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in a place in the United Kingdom;
  • an event or situation which threatens serious damage to the environment of a place in the United Kingdom;
  • or war, or terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom.

The CCA combines previous civil contingencies legislation under a single legislative framework, however, some civil contingencies legislation remains outside the Act because to bring it within the Act would duplicate existing requirements. This legislation includes elements of:

  • Control of Major Accidents Hazards (COMAH) 2015,
  • Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations (REPPIR) 2001 and
  • Pipelines Safety Regulations (PSR) 1996.

For further information see "The fit with other legislation "

Duties on local responders

CCA imposes duties on a number of bodies as Category 1 and Category 2 Responders.

Category 1 Responder duties: role includes the duty to assess the risk of an emergency occurring and to maintain plans for the purposes of responding to an emergency.

The main Category 1 responders (general) are:

  • a county council in England
  • district council in England
  • a London borough council
  • the Common Council of the City of London
  • the Council of the Isles of Scilly
  • a county council in Wales
  • a county borough council in Wales
  • a council for a local government area in Scotland
  • Chief Officers of Police
  • Fire and Rescue authorities
  • National Health Service trusts
  • NHS foundation trusts
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups
  • Local Health Boards
  • Public Health England / Health Protection Scotland / Public Health Wales
  • Port health authorities
  • Environment Agency
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • The Secretary of State for the Environment

Category 2 Responder duties: role includes the duty to cooperate with and provide information to Category 1 responders in relation to their civil protection duties. They are less likely to be involved in planning work outside their sector of interest.

Category 2 responders should not generally be asked or expected to provide information which they do not hold, ie they should not be expected to undertake special research or investigations. Additionally, HSE would not have to provide information already held by a Category 1 responder (eg information on cooling towers for legionella purposes).

The main Category 2 responders (general) are:

  • Persons holding transmission, distribution or interconnected licences
  • Persons holding specific licences under the Gas Act 1986
  • Water undertakers or sewerage undertakers appointed under the Water Industry Act 1991
  • Providers of public electronic communications networks which make telephone services available (whether for spoken communication or for the transmission of data)
  • Operators of railways assets and railways service providers
  • Transport for London
  • London Underground Limited (being a subsidiary of Transport for London)
  • Aircraft operators
  • Harbour authorities
  • Secretary of State for Transport
  • Health and Safety Executive

Under s9 of the CCA, Ministers of the Crown (and Scottish Ministers) may require Category 1 or Category 2 responders to:

  • provide information about actions taken for the purpose of complying with any of the duties specified in Part 1 of the Act; or
  • explain why action has not been taken for the purpose of complying with any of these duties.

Co-operation and information sharing

As a Category 2 responder under CCA, HSE is required to cooperate with Category 1 responders, in connection with the performance by them with any of their following duties

  • assessing the risk of an emergency occurring (including an emergency that would make it necessary for the Category 1 responder in question to carry out any of their functions), not including risks subject to COMAH, REPPIR and PSR.
  • reviewing and modifying these risk assessments and maintaining business continuity and emergency response plans in the light of changing assessments
  • publishing all or part of such risk assessments and plans; and
  • maintaining public warning arrangements.

HSE is required to provide information (either on request or in other specified circumstances) to Category 1 responders, in connection with the performance by Category 1 responders of any of their duties listed above. When the information is covered by a security or commercially sensitive marking, CCA states that responders should not share risk assessments in the LRF in full if the responder has reason to believe that to do so would compromise the information.

For HSE this co-operation will mainly take place through a Local Resilience Forum (LRF), (or Regional Resilience Partnership (RRP) in Scotland) or a sub-group of the LRF or SCG.

The guidance accompanying the Civil Contingencies Act is:

Further information for Scotland:

Further information for Wales:

Appendix 2 - Central government arrangements for emergency response

Local response

The police will normally take the lead in coordinating the local response where a crime has been committed, or if there is a threat to public safety. The local multi-agency response is coordinated through a Strategic Coordinating Group (SCG) located in the Strategic Coordination Centre (SCC). The chair of the group is known as the Strategic Coordinating Group Chair or the Gold Commander. The Strategic/Tactical/Operational Command structure (sometimes known as Gold/Silver/Bronze) is a key feature of emergency response in the UK . The multi-agency co-ordination at the Tactical (Silver) level is undertaken by the Tactical Coordinating Group. The Strategic Coordinating Group, the multi-agency strategic coordinating body, may still be referred to colloquially as the Gold Group, or Gold.

Regional response

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)'s Resilience and Emergencies Division (RED) is responsible for managing a national network of resilience advisors to support local and multi-area planning and response.

RED has four English hubs, located in Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and London. The Division provides:

  • On call out of hours arrangements- national number / one team
  • The Government Liaison Role - a well-established role that supports the Strategic Co-ordination Group and ensures that Ministers have up to date briefings on which to base decisions at COBR
  • Advice on Impact Management – work closely with local resilience forum members ensuring Government Departments understand the issues affecting the local area, and communicate any difficulties responders may be experiencing

Most emergencies are dealt with by local responders at a local level. However, in exceptional circumstances, for example in the event of the use of Emergency Powers, there may be a requirement for a body to oversee activity in a geographic area in support of the nominated co-ordinator. This group will build on the existing structures of Strategic and Recovery Co-ordinating Groups and Multi-LRF SCG/RCG groups - the name and composition of any such body will be agreed at the time.

The Lead HSE Representative should attend the regional group on behalf of HSE if required.

Central government response

In some instances, the scale or complexity of an emergency is such that some degree of central government support or co-ordination becomes necessary. Central government will not duplicate the role of local responders who remain the basic building block of the response to an emergency. A designated Lead Government Department (LGD) or, where appropriate, a devolved administration, will be made responsible for the overall management of the central government response. For serious industrial accidents, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) is responsible for confirming the LGD in good time to support the response to the incident. For more information see Appendix 3.

In Scotland the management for devolved functions would fall to the Scottish Government which will initiate the Scottish Government Resilience Room (SGoRR), provide advice on lead allocation and where appropriate make a recommendation to Scottish Government Ministers and the Permanent Secretary.

In Wales the Human Resources (Facilities and Emergencies Division) of the Welsh Government will determine lead if the main focus of attention is a devolved matter.

Appendix 3 - Civil Contingencies and cross- government emergency planning

HSE works with a number of lead government departments in planning for emergencies.

National Security Council (NSC)

The National Security Council (NSC) is the main forum for collective discussion of the Government's objectives for national security and about how best to deliver them.

The ministerial forum for discussion and approval is the National Security Council (Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies) Committee or NSC (THRC). HSE is represented on NSC (THRC) (R) (O) for officials.

Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS)

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat sits within the Cabinet Office at the heart of central government. It works in partnership with Lead Government Departments (LGDs), and key stakeholders to enhance the UK's ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. These organisations are engaged in the policy making process, and represent a range of interests at all levels, who take lead responsibility for planning in relation to their own functions and responsibilities, with the Cabinet Office providing co-ordination.

Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR)

The Government maintains dedicated crisis management facilities (COBR) and supporting arrangements to manage the government response.

The Prime Minister or Minister for the Lead Government Department (LGD) will normally chair meetings involving ministers and officials from relevant departments, as appropriate. Key external stakeholders (eg the National Police Chiefs' Council - NPCC) ) may be invited to attend depending on the nature of the emergency. Meetings will cover all the strategic aspects of the response and recovery effort. Officials in COBR will identify options and propose advice on the issues on which Ministers will need to focus.

The CCS in consultation with the LGD will decide whether departments need to be represented at COBR.

Within COBR, the NSC oversees the government's response, supported, as necessary, by a number of separate cells and teams. The "situation cell" is responsible for ensuring that there is a single, immediate, authoritative overview of the current situation.

HSE has attended COBR at the request of the LGD in respect of several emergencies, including the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2007, the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 the severe weather incidents of 2009 and 2010 and the Grenfell Tower Fire of 2017.

Devolved Administrations

When emergencies occur in Scotland or Wales the devolved administrations take on some of the Lead Government Department responsibilities which are carried out by UK government departments in England, and some of the regional co-ordination responsibilities which fall to the MHCLG Resilience and Emergency Division (RED) Teams in England.

The balance of activity and interaction between the devolved authorities and the UK government in relation to emergencies will depend on the nature of the incident and the devolution settlement, ie is the relevant legislation devolved or not. However, the principles of emergency response are the same throughout the United Kingdom.

Central Government Programme of Exercises

The government has a coordinated cross government exercise programme covering a comprehensive range of domestic disruptive challenges, including accidents, natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

The programme is designed to rigorously test the concept of operations from the coordinated central response through the range of Lead Government Department responsibilities and the involvement of the Devolved Administrations, to the regional tier and local responders.

HSE may take part in these exercises when they offer the opportunity for learning in major incident management across HSE, testing and reviewing HSE's own plans and procedures; and informing and refining wider policy development.


The Home Office is responsible for keeping the UK safe from the threat posed by terrorism.

The UK counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST focuses on the most significant security threat to the people of the UK today – the threat from international and home grown terrorism. The aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from international terrorism and CONTEST programmes are organised into four work streams:

  • Pursue – to stop terrorist attacks
  • Prevent – to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism
  • Protect – to strengthen our protection against terrorist attack
  • Prepare – where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact.

Within CONTEST, HSE contributes to PREPARE and PROTECT, working alongside Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and others.

National Security Risk Assessment - NSRA

The government monitors the most significant emergencies that the United Kingdom and its citizens could face over the next two years through the National Security Risk Assessment - NSRA .

The NSRA is a biannual process carried out by the Cabinet Office's Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS). It looks at national risks and the basis of their plausibility or likelihood as well as their impact. These risks are either malicious threats to the security of the UK (eg terrorist attacks) or risks such as those which HSE own ie non-malicious hazards that will cause disruption on a national level. There are over 50 hazard risks for which Government Departments are responsible.

The results of the NSRA are supplied to LRFs via Resilience Direct.  Although the full NSRA is classified secret, CCS also produce the National Risk Register (NRR) , which is a publicly available version that allows the risks identified to be shared widely without compromising security.  LRFs use this to produce their own Community Risk Register (CRR) for their own locality.

HSE owns risks within the NSRA and ensures that these are adequately assessed, developed and submitted, in accordance with Cabinet Office procedures and planning assumptions.

HSE is the lead for assessing the likelihood for the hazard categories below:

  • Fire or explosion at a gas LPG or LNG terminal (or associated onshore feedstock pipeline) or flammable gas storage site.
  • Fire or explosion at an onshore ethylene gas pipeline.
  • Fire or explosion at an oil refinery.
  • Fire or explosion at a fuel distribution site or a site storing flammable and/ or toxic liquids in atmospheric pressure storage tanks.
  • Fire or explosion at an onshore fuel pipeline.
  • Fire or explosion at an offshore oil/ gas platform.
  • Explosion at a high-pressure gas pipeline.
  • Large toxic chemical release.
  • Biological substance release from facility where pathogens are handled deliberately (eg pathogen release from containment laboratory).
  • Biological substance release during an unrelated work activity or industrial process (eg Legionella release due to improperly maintained building environmental control systems).

Appendix 4 - Working with Local Resilience Forums (LRFs)

What is an LRF?

  • The overall purpose of the LRF is to ensure there is an appropriate level of preparedness to enable an effective multi-agency response to emergencies which may have a significant impact on the communities.
  • An LRF is not a legal entity nor does it have powers to direct its members. LRFs comprise of Category 1 and 2 responders and their approach to resilience is based on the principle of subsidiarity ie decisions and responsibilities rest at the lowest appropriate level, with collaboration and co-ordination at the highest level necessary.
  • The LRF establish and monitor a range of sub-groups as well as task and finish groups, which are competent in the delivery of allocated work streams.

The LRF's specific objectives are to:

  • agree on joint strategic and policy approaches relating to preparedness and response;
  • approve the Community Risk Register,
  • ensure that appropriate multi-agency plans, procedures, training and exercises address local and wider area hazards;
  • direct and oversee the activities of working groups and allocate tasks to them;

LRF areas are defined by the boundaries of Police areas across England and Wales. There is a single Local resilience partnership for London which is supported by the London Resilience Team.

Resilience is a devolved matter:

  • In Wales there are four LRFs (Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales). Strategic issues are discussed at the Wales Resilience Forum.
  • Scotland has three Regional Resilience Partnerships (RRPs - North, East and West) which in turn are broken down into a number of Local Resilience Partnerships (LRPs - 3 in the North and East, 7 in the West).
  • The  Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) Resilience and Emergencies Division (RED) is responsible for managing a network in England of resilience advisors to support local and multi-area planning and response. RED has four hubs, located in Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and London and provides:
    • On call out of hours arrangements- national number / one team
    • The Government Liaison Role - a well- established role that supports the Strategic Co-ordination Group and ensures that Ministers have up to date briefings on which to base decisions at COBR
    • Advice on Impact Management – work closely with Local Resilience Forum members, ensuring Government Departments understand the issues affecting the local area and communicate any difficulties responders may be experiencing

Preparation of local likelihood risk assessments

Sites subject to Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH), Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations (REPPIR), and the Pipelines Safety Regulations (PSR) are exempt from the CCA 2004 (Contingency Planning) Regulations 2005 (Regulation 12) requirement on Category 1 responders to undertake risk assessments or emergency plans (to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion), but it should be appreciated that:

  • Lower Tier COMAH sites are not required to have external (off-site) emergency plans under COMAH and are assumed to be captured by the generic chemical plans designed under the CCA.
  • Sites with hazardous inventories below COMAH application, but with potential for off-site consequences should there be a major incident (sometimes referred to as 'Sub-COMAH') are within scope of the CCA.  Operationally HSE does not hold information relevant to the planning functions of the LRFs and so is unlikely to be able to assist for these sites. These should also be captured by the generic chemical plans.

HSE should provide the information for COMAH hazards, since the risk assessments for these high hazard COMAH areas will cover the more moderate 'sub-COMAH' situations. Some LRFs may not understand the exemptions under the CCA and that the COMAH information provided is to assist them to plan for the 'sub-COMAH' situations. They may seek to involve themselves in COMAH internal (on-site) safety plans or verifying the presence of preventative / control measures relating to COMAH/REPPIR or PSR. Where such confusion arises HSE should explain the situation to the chair of the LRF.

Care should be taken not to deal with issues best answered by other responders. For example questions relating to external (off-site) emergency plans under COMAH should be referred to the Local Authority emergency planners as the appropriate owners of such information.

Civil Contingency plans are for large scale incidents that will be at the upper limit of those that may be covered by a COMAH external (off site) emergency plan. It is also unlikely that an emergency plan drawn up under Civil Contingency requirements would fully meet COMAH requirements. However, there may be no problems with LRFs producing civil contingency plans with site specific appendices that fully meet the COMAH requirements.

Following the major incident at the Buncefield Oil Storage depot in 2005, a series of recommendations were made by the Buncefield Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) with the aim that the arrangements for emergency preparedness and response to meet the COMAH requirements are fully integrated with those established under the CCA and are not produced in isolation, nor duplicate work done in meeting the requirements under CCA and supporting Regulations

For more information see the "Fit with other legislation"

In response to this guidance and the MIIB recommendations, the COMAH Competent Authority working with industry, emergency planners and other external organisations, produced COMAH specific guidance to assist in the integration of COMAH and other emergency planning requirements.

Local Risk Assessment Working Groups (RAWG)

Local risk assessments are prepared by the RAWG of the LRF.  Local HSE operational staff (usually CEMHD) may attend the RAWG on request if resources are available.

Cabinet Office provides generic local risk assessment guidance to local responders (via Resilience Direct) and this should be amended by the RAWG to reflect the hazards in an area:

  • RAWG members should be aware of the locations of Upper tier (UT) COMAH sites and other significant HSE-enforced sites such as biological hazard premises and, if requested, local operational teams should provide this information to the RAWG.
  • The likelihood ratings are given in orders of magnitude with score of 1 being a greater than (1 in 20,000) chance of occurring, score of 2 being a greater than (1 in 2,000) chance of occurring. The risk assessment is generated for a two year period). The likelihood rating given in the table is a range from 1 to the maximum value of 5 taken from the National (Security) Risk Assessment: this rating cannot be increased but it may be reduced or even discounted, if this is appropriate for local circumstances.
  • Risks included in the NSRA are those which are considered to have the potential to register on the national scale. Other than to consider how relevant the hazard is to the locality ie number of sites present within the area, HSE do not consider that any further assessment is needed of the industrial accident risks, as this task has been previously undertaken at a national level coordinated by EPU.

The end product of the LRF risk assessment sub-working group is the 'Community Risk Register', or CRR. This is published taking into account the security marking of various contributions. Further information can be found online in respective LRF Community Risk Registers.

HSE should not supply any contextual information within an assessment to avoid any possible charge of omission with regard to local establishments to which specific reference has not been made. Local Authorities are likely to have better and more up-to-date information regarding the location of the more vulnerable type of establishments and such questions should be referred to them. If some contextual information is deemed essential from HSE, then any specific reference should always be covered by a careful caveat eg this specific reference does not preclude the fact that there may be other local vulnerable sites that should be considered.

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Updated 2022-08-16