Health Inspectors’ Rights and Powers

A health and safety inspector has the right to enter your work premises at any time. Usually, they will be coming to carry out a health and safety inspection but can also be called upon to investigate an accident or other health and safety related incident that may have occurred on the premises. In the latter instances, they will want to establish what caused the accident or incident, advise on whether or not you need to take action to prevent a similar occurrence happening again or to determine if there has been a breach of health and safety law.

Whatever the purpose of their visit, they have the authority to take certain actions including carrying out examinations and investigations, incorporating taking measurements, photographs or samples if necessary. They can take possession of an article or item and arrange for it to be dismantled or tested. They can seize and take away or make safe any article or substance that could cause serious personal injury. They can request information and take statements from people they think might be able to help them in an investigation and can inspect and copy documents related to their reason for being there.

If the inspector considers that you are breaking Health and Safety Law or that there are serious health and safety risks that could arise as a result of your business activities, they can issue an informal warning either verbally or in writing or issue an improvement notice or prohibition notice. This can mean that certain items of equipment cannot be used until modifications have been made to them or, in certain instances, can never be used again and have to be replaced or it might mean that certain activities you have been conducting on the premises are also prohibited.

In serious cases of breaches of health and safety law, no warnings, whether formal or informal have to be made firstly. The health inspector has the power to prosecute the company or individuals within it without issuing prior warning in extreme cases of health and safety breaches.

Appealing Against a Health Inspector’s Decision

If you are served with an improvement notice or prohibition notice you will be told in writing about your right to appeal which will be accompanied with the appropriate appeal form. Appeals must be made to an Employment Tribunal (or an Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland) within 14 days of the notice being issued.

You may want to appeal if:

  • You disagree with the inspector’s opinion that you are breaking the law
  • You disagree that your activities give rise to a risk of serious injury

If you appeal against an improvement notice, the notice will be suspended until after your appeal is heard. However, if you appeal against a prohibition notice, the notice stays in force until after the appeal is heard unless you apply to the tribunal to have it lifted pending the appeal. If the secretary of the tribunal agrees with your application, the notice will be lifted pending the court’s decision.

The tribunal hearing can either uphold the notice, vary the terms of the notice or quash the notice.

If the tribunal upholds or varies the terms of an improvement notice, you must ensure you comply with the law by making any improvements or modifications required within the time stipulated.

If the tribunal upholds a prohibition notice, you must not resume the prohibited activity without taking the required remedial action first.

Businesses must comply with a notice or face a fine. In some cases, the owners or directors of the company could face a prison sentence for failure to put right serious breaches discovered by health inspectors or if they contravene a prohibition notice for a serious offence.

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