With increasing numbers of SMEs now operating high hazard sites, the chair of the Health and Safety Executive has cautioned that the regulations apply to businesses of all sizes.
Judith Hackitt, addressing delegates at The Process Safety Management Summit II on January 21st, said small businesses in the sector should not be privy to a relaxation of health and safety regulations.
“There is a much greater number of smaller entrepreneurial companies operating major hazard facilities”, she said, adding that “often those businesses do not have the backup of extensive in house technical resources”.
Ms Hackitt continued: “What we cannot do is allow ourselves as regulators or you, as operators, to fall into the trap of thinking a small operator equals low risk or, worse still, SMEs need to have a relaxation of standards because they are small and because they can’t afford to do what we’d expect of the big corporations.”
Instead, such organisations needed help accessing knowledge, acquiring competence and embedding process safety into their operations, she said.
The HSE, she recalled, had investigated 115 incidents at major hazard sites last year, something Ms Hackitt believed demonstrated that “the old lessons are still not yet being learned by the people who need to learn them”.
In addition to existing safety risks highlighted by incidents such as Buncefield, she said the changing face of industry over the past two decades posed a raft of new safety challenges.
Pointing to the “many new processes” which had entered the sector, Ms Hackitt said: “We must not only keep focus on the hydrocarbon risks associated with petrochemicals, we need to recognise there are new and possibly not well understood high hazard risks now emerging in this sector.”
The Process Safety Management Summit II, presented by the UK Process Safety Management Project Board, is the UK’s largest gathering of practitioners and executives from industry, stakeholder and regulatory bodies.