The only way to protect your business from a Health and Safety Executive inspection is to make sure you comply with health and safety legislation at all time, writes Croner consultant Dale Smith.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections are on the increase. In 2017/2018, HSE inspectors fined businesses £72.6 million for breaching health and safety laws. They issued 3883 prohibition notices. And they carried out 517 prosecutions, with 7% of offences resulting in immediate custodial sentences. However, prosecution is the worst-case scenario.

Why has the HSE inspector chosen this organisation?

The HSE inspects businesses working in high-risk industries. So if your organisation is high risk and has not had a visit for a while, don’t be surprised if an HSE inspector wants to take a look around.

This may be a random inspection but is more likely to be due to a previous incident, an issue raised by a worker, or a report of a serious injury on site.

What is the inspector looking for?

The inspectors want to check that employers are keeping their staff, customers and members of the public safe. They also review if work activities are being carried out in line with statutory requirements.

The inspector will ask about the health and safety issues affecting the business and what is being done to reduce risk. They may want to look around the site and inspect aspects of work being done, too.

If they are investigating an incident, the inspector will want you to describe what happened and what processes you had in place. They’ll look at your accident investigation report and any CCTV or photographs that may have been taken. They’ll also speak to your staff or read their witness statements.

What will happen next?

Immediately after the visit, the inspector might offer the organisation written or verbal advice on how to improve safety at work. Or they could issue a notification of contravention, which means that there has been a breach of health and safety law.

The inspector may then issue an improvement notice. This gives the organisation at least 21 days to correct the issue.

For more serious offences, an inspector may issue a prohibition notice. This forces the organisation to stop any activities deemed dangerous immediately. The inspector can also seize items, substances and equipment as evidence.

Finally, the inspector can prosecute the organisation and/or its directors. This could lead to a court appearance, a fine or even a prison sentence.

How much will an inspection cost?

If the inspector issues a notice of contravention, the organisation will have to pay the HSE’s expenses for the investigation. This is called a fee for intervention (FFI).

FFI is an hourly charge of £154. An organisation must pay it within 30 days of receiving an invoice. FFI also applies if the HSE issues a notice of improvement or prohibition.

The fines for prosecution depend on the offence committed. For example, in 2018 the average fine for breaches of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 was £846,250.

Of course, the total impact on a business can be much greater. An improvement notice can force an organisation to make high-cost changes in a short space of time. A prohibition notice can shut the business down or lead to disqualification of being a director for a set period of time.

Even minor breaches have lasting damage. The HSE will register an enforcement notice against the business for 10 years. This can make it hard to get work with new clients and almost impossible to bid for public sector contracts.

How can I protect my business?

As always, prevention is better than the cure. Ensure that you are aware of the legal requirements on your business and that you have procedures for improving, monitoring and reviewing your compliance status.

For more information, see the topic Health and Safety Enforcement.

Croner consultants can support your business to stay safe and successful. Call 0800 231 5199 to speak to an expert.

Last reviewed 10 July 2019