A health and safety inspector may visit any workplace, any time, with or without giving notice. Often inspections are routine and you will be notified before hand (an awareness or workplace contact officer may also visit to give help and advice) but you do need to know how to be prepared and what to expect.
What will the health and safety inspector do?
The inspector needs to see you comply with the law and help you meet your legal duties. Inspectors will give advice on specific hazards, answer technical questions and generally advise. The inspector will inspect the workplace and the work activities, check you have a valid Employers’ Liability insurance certificate and check you have adequate welfare facilities for eating, resting and sanitation. In addition the inspector will look at your management of health and safety and whether you are complying with the law. They may speak in private with your employees or their representatives (eg fire safety officers).
What paperwork should I provide?
- Your health and safety policy (see Duport’s separate guide on how to create one).
- Risk assessments (see Duport’s risk assessment guide)
- Records of equipment inspections which are required by law (including lifting equipment, pressurised systems or local exhaust ventilation to control exposure to substances used at work.)
- Any written safe working methods
- Any records of health and safety training carried out
- A valid Employers’ Liability insurance certificate.
What powers do health and safety inspectors have?
Inspectors can visit any time. They may also visit if there has been an accident to investigate its cause, advise on action to prevent a recurrence and determine if health and safety law has been breached. Whatever the reason for a visit inspectors have authority to:
- Examine and investigate, take measurements, samples and photographs.
- Take possession of an article and arrange for it to be tested or dismantled.
- Seize and make safe anything that could cause serious personal injury.
- Request information and take statements
Depending on what the inspector finds – if they think you are breaking the law or your activities pose a serious risk – they can either issue an informal warning, verbally or in writing, issue and improvement notice or prohibition notice, or even prosecute the company or individuals.
Health and safety awareness offices (often known as workplace contact officers) also visit and are specially trained to support and giving advice, information and guidance. They do not visit without consent, but do have certain powers.
What happens if I am breaking the law?
You will be told what the problem is and how to fix it so you comply with the law. You could be issued an informal warning, an improvement notice or prohibition notice. In serious cases you may be prosecuted. H&S awareness offices may support you and give advice and help. You may be given a brief report, or they may follow up any verbal advice in writing. Understand the difference between legal requirements (which you must follow) and best practice (which is for guidance). You are not obliged to follow inspection advice, but do legally have to adhere to an improvement notice or prohibition notice.
If you have been issued with an improvement notice, it means you are probably breaking H&S law and there may be a serious risk to people. The improvement notice will:
Specify the breach of law
Say what needs to be done and why
Give you a period of time in which to comply.( minimum 21 days)
You can appeal if you think the notice is unfair and will be given advice on this.
Discuss the notice with the officer who visited. You may feel you need longer to comply. Remember if you as a director or manager are in breach you could be held accountable in court.
These are serious. It means there is a risk of serious personal injury. If you get an H&S prohibition notice you will normally have to stop that activity immediately otherwise you will be prosecuted. The notice will explain what the risk is and probably whether a law is being breached and what you need to do to reduce or control the risk.
Enforcement notices (improvement and prohibition), and prosecutions are published online (for five years). You have time to appeal before they are published.
If you are given an improvement or prohibition notice your right to appeal will be explained. If you appeal against an improvement the notice will be suspended until your appeal is heard. If you appeal against a prohibition notice, the notice stays in force until after you appeal.
What happens if iI do not comply with a notice?
You will be fined, and in some cases the owners or directors (for incorporated businesses) could face a prison sentence.
Generally H&S inspectors want you to comply with the law and will offer helpful advice. Prosecution is more likely when someone has been killed, or there is a serious injury, or repeated poor compliance. Prosecutions also occur if work has been carried out without a licence where one is needed or the terms of the licence have been breached. Prosecutions may also follow work carried out without a safety case, safety management falls far below that expected and causes significant risk or there has been intent to deceive. In addition failure to comply with an improvement notice or prohibition notice, or intentional obstruction of inspectors will also result in prosecution.
Penalties depend on the offence. Owners and directors of unincorporated businesses who fail to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice will be given a maximum £20,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment. Incorporated business owners face an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment. It is up to the police to decide if a work incident is so serious it warrants investigation of manslaughter, or grievous bodily harm charges. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different arrangements.