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Employer’s Guide: Health & Safety Enforcement

When a health and safety inspector arrives at reception and wishes to carry out an inspection, what should you do? And perhaps more importantly, what should you not do when a health and safety enforcement officer appears at your workplace?

 

Who Enforces Health & Safety Law?

Health and safety law is enforced by:

  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Inspectors
  • Local Authority Health and Safety Inspectors
  • Environmental Health Officers (EHO)

Each of these official personnel have powers of enforcement in specific business sectors, although some have cross-warranted authority. This means they may visit and enforce in an industry sector that is not normally within their scope. Regardless of the legislation/business sector they enforce, each of these health and safety inspectors have the same powers.

 

What Powers Does a Health and Safety Enforcement Officer have?

Health and Safety Enforcement Officers have an extensive range of power under Section 20 of Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  These include:

  • Inspecting a workplace at any reasonable time. Unlike the police, they do not need to have a warrant to visit or enter your premises. All they need to do is show you their identification. They may however bring a police officer with them to assist in gaining entry if they believe they may be obstructed or their safety compromised.
  • Giving advice. The term ‘advice’ is used loosely as they will advise you what must be done but not how it should be done.
  • Reviewing documents such as your risk assessments, COSHH assessments, safety or operating procedures, health and safety policy and health and employee training records.  They may take copies of documents too.
  • Taking samples (e.g. of dusts or chemicals). If they do this, it is advisable to take your own representative sample for reference purposes.
  • Detaining items in situ for examination or taking them away (e.g. CCTV images or footage).
  • Speaking to employees or taking statements from them.
  • Investigating accidents and incidents as well as complaints received from an employee, contractor, or member off public.

 

How are Health and Safety Laws Enforced?

When a health and safety enforcement officer identifies a breach in legislation, they may issue you with any one of the following notices. These actions are not withstanding other action, including prosecution.

  1. Fee for Intervention: This is issued when the HSE Inspector finds a material breach of legislation (EHOs currently don’t charge for intervention although this may change in the future). A material breach is where you have not fully met a legal requirement (but is not too serious at this stage). The Inspector will charge an hourly rate for their time to intervene, and when the matter is dealt with it is closed. It is usually a non-disclosable matter which means that you do not have to declare this during tender applications, insurance discussions or liaison with other stakeholders.

 

  1. Improvement Notice: This is a legal document and becomes a public record (i.e. When issued but the HSE it is posted on the HSE’s Public register of enforcement notices). You may continue your activities whilst addressing the remedial action, but you must address it satisfactorily within the timeframe or risk facing further action (unless you appeal against it).

 

  1. Prohibition Notice: This is issued when the inspector believes there is risk of serious personal injury. These notices are serious, and the activity/area or equipment on which the notice is served cannot continue until remedial action is taken. Even if you disagree and appeal (to an Employment Tribunal), you cannot continue using the prohibited equipment or activity pending the appeal. A Prohibition Notice is also a public record and is posted on the HSE’s Public register of enforcement notices.

 

When Might a Health and Safety Inspector Visit?

Some of the most common circumstances which are likely to trigger a health and safety inspection include:

  • If there has been a RIDDOR notification made. In this instance, inspectors may contact you first to requesting information that will help them decide whether on not to investigate further.
  • When a concern has been raised by an individual (e.g. employee, visitor, or member of the public). Inspectors won’t tell you who has made the complaint, simply that one has been made.
  • When the enforcement body is targeting a specific business sector or work activity (e.g. work at height, workplace transport or manual handling).

 

What Do Health and Safety Inspectors Look For?

Sometimes the Inspector will simply want a general inspection of your premises. Much will depend on the reason for their visit in the first place. If, for example, it is following a serious injury report they will concentrate on the area, process, and equipment where the incident occurred. Depending on what they find, they may then expand their inspection further.

Likewise, if the enforcing authority is targeting a particular process or activity they will start in the associated location where this occurs.

Typical things a health and safety inspector will look at include:

  • Standards of housekeeping.
  • Clearly defined walkways (particularly where vehicles and pedestrians circulate).
  • Safety, operating or emergency procedures and adherence to them.
  • Employee or volunteer training records
  • Safety checks, inspections and servicing records
  • Availability and use of personal protective equipment.
  • Safe working behaviours.
  • Suitable arrangements for workplace welfare and hygiene (rest rooms, locker, or other storage provision, washing and toilet facilities etc…
  • Management of high-risk activities such as working at height and manual handling.
  • Whether the organisation has access to competent health and safety advice.

 

 How to Respond if an Inspector Calls

Do:

  • Cooperate with the inspector at all times.
  • Always be courteous and polite, offer them refreshment and reasonable facilities.
  • Be honest and open with them. Inspectors will respect that. The more obstructive or unhelpful you are will only add more time to their enquiries; they won’t go away.

The inspector should explain what part of the business /activities they wish to see.

Do Not:

  • Obstruct them. This is a criminal offence and will make matters worse.
  • Make their life difficult. They will appreciate the process going as smoothly as possible, even if it is not particularly comfortable for you.
  • Argue with them. Instead, take note of what they are saying and ask why they are stating what you do not agree with.
  • Break your own rules/protocols – even if the inspector wants to visit an area where he/she may not be authorised/ trained (e.g. high risk). It is important you explain the reasons why it is not appropriate, refer to your own policies and protocols, and offer suggestions of alternative ways to enable the inspector to achieve their objective.

 

 Conclusion

Most Health & Safety Enforcement Inspectors are approachable and realistic. Their workload is heavy like it is for many busy managers so it is helpful if you can ensure their visit is smooth, unobstructed, and proactive. Developing an open relationship of mutual respect is always a positive thing to do.

If you would like further advice and support or have received an enforcement notice and are not sure how to address it, please contact us for an impartial discussion.


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