Policing Health and Safety

So who enforces health and safety law?

Health and safety law is enforced by inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or by inspectors from the relevant local authority.  Inspectors have the right to enter any workplace, and though notice may be given where the inspector thinks it is appropriate, a visit can also be made without giving any notice, and that’s the part that strikes fear into unprepared business owners.

On a normal inspection visit an inspector would expect to look at:

  • the workplace,
  • the work activities,
  • your management of health and safety, and
  • to check that you are complying with health and safety law.

The inspector may offer guidance or advice to help, and may talk to employees and their representatives, take photographs and samples, serve improvement notices and take action if there is a risk to health and safety which needs to be dealt with immediately.


How is health and safety law enforced?

On finding a breach of health and safety law, the inspector will decide what action to take, according to the nature of the breach.  Inspectors may take enforcement action in several ways to deal with a breach of the law. In most cases these are:

  • Informal

Where the breach of the law is relatively minor, the inspector may tell the dutyholder, for example the employer or contractor, what to do to comply with the law, and explain why.

  • Improvement notice

Where the breach of the law is more serious, the inspector may issue an improvement notice to tell the dutyholder to do something to comply with the law. The inspector will discuss the improvement notice 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 period within which to take the remedial action will be at least 21 days. The inspector can take further legal action if the notice is not complied with within the specified time period.

  • Prohibition notice

Where an activity involves, or will involve, a risk of serious personal injury, the inspector may serve a prohibition notice prohibiting the activity immediately or after a specified time period, and not allowing it to be resumed until remedial action has been taken.

  • Prosecution

In some cases the inspector may consider that it is also necessary to initiate a prosecution. For example, a failure to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice, or a court remedy order, carries a fine of up to £20 000, or six months’ imprisonment, or both. Unlimited fines and in some cases imprisonment may be imposed by higher courts


Fee for Intervention

Since 1st October 2012 the HSE has operated a Fee for Intervention (FFI) whereby those who break health and safety laws are liable for HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action

Further information can be found here.