Health and Safety Inspector – What Happens During a Visit

Many business owners worry about having a visit from a Health and Safety inspector. However, if you are running your premises properly, there is no reason to be concerned about it.

The health and safety inspectors’ job is to make sure that your business is a safe place to work. They also want to make sure you are following safety regulations that apply to your type of business.

They aren’t hoping to ‘catch you out’. Often, if you’re in breach of safety conditions they’ll give written notice, and allow time to put things right.

A health and safety inspector will only insist on immediate action if you are breaching health and safety rules to such an extent that you are putting employees or the public in danger.


What Powers do Health & Safety Inspectors Have?

Inspectors can enter your place of work at any time. They don’t have to give notice but in practice, they may 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. They will also 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. They 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 inform your employees of any action that they have asked you to take. This action will be taken because 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
  • Prosecution

Informal Action

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. You can ask them to send you written confirmation of their advice.

Improvement Notice

An Improvement Notice may be served for more serious breaches. The notice 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. If you get an improvement notice, it’s important to make sure that you give it quick attention.

Often, you will have been given a chance to discuss the notice with the inspector prior to it being served. So 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.


Prohibition Notice

A Prohibition Notice will be served if an inspector finds any activity which could or has led to serious personal injury at work.

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.


Prosecution

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. They can be up to £20,000 for failing to act within the specified time period.

In some circumstances, you could even face imprisonment. Be aware that 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 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.

Further Reading

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