When a Health and Safety Inspector Calls: Unannounced HSE Inspections in the Workplace

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There are many reasons why a health and safety inspector might visit you. HSE inspections happen for many reasons. An HSE inspector could be investigating a complaint from an employee or a public member, visiting after a reported incident, a random unaccounted ‘spot check’, or checking that you have completed a previous action they instructed you to take.

You must know what powers a health and safety executive inspector has and the consequences of not complying.

The role of the HSE 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 for an unannounced health and safety inspection. If they believe there is a good reason to do so, they may also conduct an HSE inspection in the presence of a police officer if it is thought they will face any obstruction.

During Their Workplace Safety Inspections, the 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 an HSE inspection report finds you in breach of health and safety law, you may be issued a Notification of contravention (NoC). It explains how you are breaking the law and what you need to do to rectify the situation. If you get issued an NoC, you will have to pay for the time it takes for the HSE work safety inspector 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!

HSE Inspectors Also Have the Power to Issue Enforcement Notices Following HSE Statutory Inspections:

Improvement Notice Following Unannounced HSE Workplace Inspections

An improvement notice following HSE statutory inspections 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. Following an HSE site inspection, you have at least 21 days to make any changes, and if you don’t make the changes in the time frame stated, you are committing a criminal offence.

Prohibition Notice Following HSE Health And Safety Inspections in the Workplace

Following health and safety inspections in the workplace, 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 from the HSE inspector 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 following formal workplace inspections, 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.

HSE site inspection FAQs

Are HSE unannounced inspections legal?

HSE inspectors have absolute power and authority to turn up at your workplace and conduct HSE unannounced inspections. They may make contact before a visit to your premises to ensure that certain staff members are on-site and available. Still, as a government agency, they can turn up totally unannounced at your business premises during business hours and carry out workplace safety inspections.

Suppose an HSE inspector finds safety issues with my business. How long do I have to rectify the safety problems?

Get a visit from a health and safety executive inspector, and they find that you breach any health and safety laws. There could be several outcomes depending upon the severity of the offence or offences committed. Once an HSE inspector has completed their visit, they may simply offer you advice, give you a notification of contravention, an improvement notice, a prohibition notice, or even prosecute you for breaching health and safety laws. Depending on the findings of the HSE site inspection and the offences, you could get anything from some free verbal advice to fix an issue on the spot or face prosecution and a prison sentence.

Why do HSE inspectors turn up unannounced?

There are many reasons HSE inspections occur, and they are not always unannounced. You may get an advanced notice that you are getting an HSE site inspection. Still, the HSE is not obligated to give you any information that they intend to visit your business or home premises before an inspection, and it is their job to investigate complaints. The HSE can conduct an unannounced health and safety inspection for many reasons. They may have received information from a public member, or there may have been an accident in the workplace.  An employee may have contacted the HSE regarding concerns they have, or it could even be a follow-up visit from an HSE inspector. It could even be just a random spot-check by a work safety inspector, but whichever one it is, they are a government agency, and you will need to comply with the inspection.

As an employer, will I have to pay for workplace safety inspections?

Not in every case will you be required to pay any of the costs of workplace safety inspections conducted by an HSE inspector. The HSE a Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme that they use to recover costs. If following an HSE site inspection, you have been found in breach of any health and safety laws, the HSE can recover costs under the FFI scheme for the time taken in helping you to correct the issue. As of 2022/2023, the HSE fee for FFI is  £163 per hour.

When I get an unannounced health and safety inspection, what is an HSE inspector looking for?

Health and safety inspections in the workplace happen up and down the county every day. An unannounced health and safety inspection is a common practice for the HSE, and an HSE inspector could visit your business premises without prior notice to look at your operation. During a routine visit, an HSE site inspection would include the inspector checking safety standards by visiting workplaces, observing working methods, your company’s health and safety management and ensuring that you are complying with health and safety law as a business. Once the HSE inspector has completed their inspection HSE inspection report, the inspector may offer you some essential advice verbally on correcting safety breaches. They may take more severe action if the health and safety law violations are more serious.

If I get fined following an HSE inspection, will the cost of the fine be covered by my insurance company?

If your business gets a visit from a health and safety inspector, which results in a fine, your insurance company will not cover the costs incurred. Any fines that are received will be the sole responsibility of your company.

If someone visits my business claiming to be a health and safety inspector, how can I ensure they are genuine?

If your business gets an unannounced health and safety inspection, or even an inspection with prior notice, you will more than likely want to check that the person you are allowing onto your business premises is who they say they are. Every HSE inspector carries official government identification, and you can ask to see it before any formal workplace inspections take place.

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