HSE inspectors have the right to enter any facility without prior notice so if an HSE inspector comes knocking, best not to try and put him off as this is likely to send out all the wrong signals.
If you’re following HSE regulations and standards, there should be nothing to worry about when the inspector calls – in fact, you could and should take the opportunity to use his knowledge to try and improve your practices.
Once on-site, the inspector will verify that you are compliant to HSE requirements by reviewing your management systems, workplace, and activities. The inspector may hold discussions with various employees, company and union representatives, possibly taking photographs and evidence samples.
Naturally, a lot of this will depend on what they see or find on the day and why they have chosen to be there in the 1st place. It may well be a random inspection or perhaps they are following up on a reported issue.
Businesses usually receive general advice or guidance that can help them improve BUT, be under no illusions, should a breach of HSE regulations be found, the inspector can enforce the law in a variety of ways based on the level of risk. These include;
- Informal actions. These are minor breaches: what to do to achieve compliance and why;
- Improvement notices. These breaches are more serious in nature and an improvement notice will detail the required actions, why they need to be done and by when. Normally you have at least 21 days to implement the corrective actions;
- Prohibition notices. The risk of serious personal injury is paramount here and prohibition notices stop certain activities with immediate effect or within a specified time; defining what action is necessary before the activity may be resumed;
- Prosecution. This where there have been a complete disregard for H&S in the workplace, multiple or consistent breaches of the law or contravention leading to public alarm/safety.
Both of the improvement and prohibition notices can be appealed through an industrial tribunal. However, failure to comply with court remedy orders, improvement and prohibition notices can lead to a £20,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment in the lower courts. In higher courts, penalties can range from unlimited fines and/or to 2 years imprisonment.
Business owners also need to be aware that enforcement is not only targeted at companies but can be taken against individuals such as employees, managers, company officers, and directors under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Unless there is a complete disregard for HSE rules, you will be given a reasonable opportunity to comply with the law; prosecutions are usually at a much later stage in the enforcement process, when previous actions have not been completed or in cases where the contravention is extremely serious. Where the contravention is extremely serious, the prosecution can occur without any prior notice.
HSE compliance is a complex minefield but the HSE website is very informative on the processes involved in investigations, regulations, and enforcement.
Of course, if in any doubt and/or subject to inspection and its aftermath, then it always is sensible to get advice from specialists. Book a call with our legal team here.