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Who enforces health and safety law?

View profile for Alison Marriott
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Is your business the subject of a Trading Standards investigation?

Health and safety law enforcement in Great Britain is generally carried out either by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the local authority, depending on the type of work and hazard involved. Fire safety, which can fall under general health and safety for some businesses, is enforced by the local fire authorities. In some sectors, there may be other enforcement bodies, such as the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in transport.

The HSE may carry out an investigation at your work premises if there has been a serious incident or if they have received complaints or have had concerns raised by staff or others. If you are subject to a HSE investigation, there will usually be a HSE inspector (or a team of inspectors) who make a site visit to:

  • Ascertain the facts of what happened in regard to the incident or complaint
  • Look at what lessons might be learned from the incident
  • Provide expert advice about how the business can improve their health and safety procedures and practices
  • Gather evidence that may be used if there is a prosecution

Once the investigation is complete, the HSE inspector or team will complete their report and an enforcement decision will be made.

Potential enforcement options include:

An improvement notice

This notice will set out how the regulations have been breached and state what your business needs to do to correct this. There will be a deadline set for the improvements to be made as required.

You will have an opportunity to discuss the breaches and ask the inspector about any queries you have.

A prohibition notice

This notice will either be effective immediately or will have a set date (known as a deferred prohibition notice) by which certain activity must cease or change to become compliant.

The activity must be stopped when requested by the prohibition notice and cannot be recommenced until the required corrective actions have been taken.

The notice will set out the reasons why it was issued and outline the measures that need to be taken to control or reduce risk in future.

Prosecution

It may be the case that the HSE choose to prosecute in regard to the breach or breaches found. This could be if you have received one or more of the above notices and have not actioned the changes needed within the deadline provided, or have otherwise breached the terms of the notice. It could also be because the breach identified was so serious that a prosecution is considered necessary. A successful prosecution will usually result in a significant fine for your business and individuals within the business who were responsible in the eyes of the law (often directors or managers) may even be given a prison sentence if the incident is considered very serious. There may be additional criminal proceedings if the incident resulted in death.

Why might you need legal support with health and safety enforcement?

If your business is subject to a HSE or local authority investigation, it can be a very worrying time. Having expert legal support that helps you to achieve the best possible outcome can be invaluable. Some enforcement notices may be able to be challenged or appealed in some circumstances.

As experienced health and safety solicitors, we are ideally placed to help businesses across the country with regard to their health and safety compliance in general, along with specific assistance for situations that may arise. Call us on 0161 696 6250 to find out more.

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