Many employers worry about having a visit from a Health and Safety inspector – but if you are running your business properly, there is no reason to be concerned about it.
The inspectors’ job is to ensure that your place of business is a safe place for your staff to work and that you are following any relevant rules or regulations that apply to your type of business.
They aren’t hoping to ‘catch you out’ and often, if you are in breach of certain safety conditions, they will give you written notice of the problem and allow you a period of time to put things right.
Usually, they will only insist on immediate action or close down your operation and begin legal proceedings if you are breaching health or safety rules to such an extent that you are putting your employees or the public in danger.
Inspectors can enter your place of work at any time and don’t have to give you any notice but in practice, they might well inform you in advance of a routine HSE inspection.
An authorised inspector has the power to:
- enter your premises at any reasonable time
- carry out investigations and examinations
- take measurements, photographs or samples
- take possession of articles or substances
- require people to give accurate information or provide statements
- inspect and/or copy any relevant documents
During a visit, an inspector will check the health and safety management of the business and confirm that you have arrangements in place to inform workers of health and safety issues or news.
The inspector will also check that any laws relating to health and safety are being complied with and may want to inspect work activities and chat to employees.
Actions for Breaching Rules
If a breach of health and safety is discovered, the inspector will use the guidelines provided by the Health and Safety Commission’s Enforcement Policy Statement.
If a serious breach is found, the inspector may well inform your employees of any action that they have asked you to take since the breach may well affect their welfare or health and safety.
There are several ways to tackle a breach of health and safety rules. Inspectors can choose to take action in more than one of the following ways:
- Informal action
- Improvement notice
- Prohibition notice
Informal action is usually taken where there has been a minor breach of health and safety laws or rules. The inspector will explain what action needs to be taken and you can ask them to send you written confirmation of their advice.
An Improvement Notice may be served for more serious breaches and it will spell out in detail what action needs to be taken and why.
(If an employer does not comply within a stated stated time period, the inspector can begin legal action so make sure that you give the notice urgent attention.)
Often, you will have been given a chance to discuss the notice with the inspector prior to it being served and if you think it will be difficult to comply with any action or to have things resolved within the time given – you should discuss this at the time. Don’t wait until the time period has expired and then hope to simply explain that it wasn’t possible to comply.
A Prohibition Notice will be served if an inspector finds any activity which could or has led to serious personal injury.
The notice will either demand that the activity ceases immediately or at a specific time. You will be told about any right to appeal against the notice.
Finally, prosecution is always a possibility. The Enforcement Policy Statement provides guidance on when and why prosecutions should be taken.
Fines for non-compliance with HSE notices can be hefty – up to £20,000 for failing to act within the specified time period. In some circumstances, you could even face imprisonment so if you are served with a notice, it is not to be taken lightly.
Right of Appeal
In less serious cases, you will usually be given at least 21 days to take remedial action or to appeal to a tribunal. You will be given information about how to appeal and the time frame for any appeal.
If at any time you do not feel that an HSE inspector has properly followed procedures, you can make a complaint to his or her manager. (This complaint procedure also applies to health and safety inspectors from the local council who undertake a lot of work on behalf of HSE.)