An Inspector Calls: What to do if a HSE Inspector turns up unannounced

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What should I do if a HSE inspector arrives unannounced? What can they do?

There are many reasons why an inspector might visit you. They could be investigating a complaint from an employee or a member of the public, visiting after a reported incident, a random unaccounted ‘spot check’ or they could be checking that you have completed a previous action they instructed you to take.

It’s important that you are aware of what powers a HSE inspector has and the consequences of not complying.

The role of an inspector is to investigate if people are at risk, set out actions to be completed to ensure compliance with the law, issue enforcement action and most importantly provide advice and guidance to employers.

If someone has reported concerns to the HSE, the inspector does not have to tell you who has made the report (even if it’s an employee). Many people are unaware that inspectors can enter your premises if they believe there is a good reason to do so, they may also bring a police officer with them if they feel they will be obstructed.

In addition, a HSE inspector has the power to:

  • Question managers, employees and safety representatives (as well anyone else where appropriate);
  • Inspect equipment, substances and other aspects of your workplace;
  • Take photographs and samples;
  • Inspect and take copies of any relevant paperwork.

If you are found in breach of health and safety law, you may be issued with a Notification of contravention (NoC). This will explain how you are breaking the law and what you need to do to rectify the situation. If you have been issued a NoC, you will have to pay for the time it takes for the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action, it is called a ‘fee for intervention (FFI)’. Currently the FFI rate is set at £129 per hour!

Inspectors also have the power to issue enforcement notices:

Improvement notice

An improvement notice will tell you what’s wrong, any changes you need to make to put things right and how long you have to make those changes. You have at least 21 days to make any changes, if you don’t make the changes in the time frame stated, you are committing a criminal offence.

Prohibition notice

You may get a prohibition notice if there is a risk of serious personal injury either now, or in the future. This could be, for example, people working on a roof where scaffolding is unsafe. A prohibition notice orders you to stop doing something until you have made it safe to continue. This could be, for example, keeping workers off a roof until you fix any unsafe scaffolding. You commit a criminal offence if you don’t comply with a prohibition notice.

If you disagree with a decision, enforcement notice or FFI you can contact the HSE to log an appeal. The HSE will explain how to do this and the implication this will have on your notice.

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