Health and safety law is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and District Council Environmental Health Departments. Who inspects your workplace depends on the business activity being carried on.
What do inspections involve?
Inspectors may visit your workplace with or without prior notice to check health and safety standards and provide support and advice. An Inspector will examine the workplace, the work activities, and look at how health and safety is managed. They may also talk to employees and their
At the end of the visit, the Inspector will discuss any concerns; explain what needs to be done and inform the appropriate person of any action which he/she is going to take and why. Inspectors will if asked, write to confirm any advice, and to distinguish legal requirements from best practice advice.
It is usual for Inspectors to take enforcement action where they find serious risks to people’s health and safety.
What enforcement action can Inspectors take?
When they take enforcement action, they try to be fair and to treat all businesses in a similar way. They will explain why the action is being taken and give business owners the opportunity to have their views heard if they have concerns.
Inspectors may give employees or their representatives information about action taken or issues which affect their health, safety and welfare. Inspectors may take the following types of enforcement action depending on the level of risk to people’s health and safety: –
Where the breach of the law is relatively minor, the Inspector may tell the business owner what to do to comply with the law and explain why. He/she can confirm this in writing if asked. The Inspector will also endeavour to make it clear what is a legal requirement and what is best practice advice.
When the breach of the law is more serious, the Inspector may issue an Improvement Notice. Where possible, the Inspector will try to talk to the business owner about the Notice, what it means before it is served, and if possible, resolve points of difference before serving it. The Notice will say what needs to be done, why, and by when. The time given for work to be carried out will always be more than 21 days as there is a right of appeal to an Industrial Tribunal (see ‘Appeals’ below).An extension of time can be given in reasonable circumstances. The Inspector can take a prosecution if the work listed on the Notice is not finished by the date given on the Notice.
Where an activity involves, or will involve, a risk of serious personal injury, the Inspector may serve a Prohibition Notice to stop that activity until action is taken to prevent people being harmed. The Notice can take immediate effect or may in certain circumstances require the activity to stop within a number of days. Where possible, this will be discussed with the business owner. The Notice will explain why the action is necessary and details about how to appeal to an Industrial Tribunal will be given.
In some cases the Inspector may feel that it is necessary to take a prosecution. Although the courts decide on the punishment to give offenders, health and safety at work law allows for high levels of fines and even imprisonment. For example, a failure to comply with an Improvement or Prohibition Notice, or a Court Order, taken in a Magistrates Court can result in a fine of up to £20,000, or six months imprisonment, or both. Cases taken to the Crown Court can lead to unlimited fines and in some cases imprisonment.