Enforcement of health and safety law (Transcript)

The enforcement of health and safety depends on the main activity undertaken. The Health and Safety Executive typically enforces at higher risk workplaces such as construction sites and factories. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) enforces on the railways. Local Authorities (usually Environmental Health Officers) enforce at lower risk premises such as retailers, offices etc.

All authorised inspectors have the same powers, regardless of the area of enforcement. Inspectors can:

  • enter any premises for the purposes of enforcing health and safety law without permission or prior notice, at any reasonable time or at any time if dangerous;
  • take a police constable with them if they have reasonable cause for thinking they might be seriously obstructed;
  • take any other person authorised by their enforcing authority, such as a specialist, and any equipment needed;
  • order that areas be left undisturbed; take measurements, photographs and samples, carry out tests on, and/or confiscate articles and substances have them made harmless, by destruction if necessary;
  • inspect and take copies of relevant documents and interview and take written statements from anyone they think might give them information relevant to their examination or investigation.

Inspectors have a range of enforcement options available including:

  • Simple Cautions;
  • Improvement Notices;
  • Prohibition Notices; and
  • Prosecution.

The best option(s) will be chosen in each case. There is no hierarchical escalation route from simple caution to prosecution.

Based on the level of risk and level of management cooperation an inspector may deal with a situation informally by verbal advice or an explanatory letter. This is known as a simple caution. Provided agreed actions are completed on time no formal action will be taken.

An improvement notice may be served whenever health and safety legislation is being contravened. It will specify the breach of legislation and may specify a means of complying. It has to allow a reasonable time (minimum 21 days) to complete any specified works. Any appeal must be made to an Employment Tribunal with 21 days of the date of service. The requirements of the notice would be suspended until the appeal was heard. The Employment Tribunal may uphold, cancel or vary the notice as a consequence of the appeal.

A  prohibition notice may be issued when the inspector considers that there is a risk of serious personal injury. The notice prohibits the carrying on of the work activity giving rise to the risk of injury. If the risk of injury is imminent, the notice must take immediate effect and stop the work activity at once. If not, the notice is deferred, specifying the time by which the work activity must cease. Any appeal against a prohibition notice must be made to an Employment Tribunal with 21 days of the date of service. The notice would stay in effect until the appeal was heard.

Any breach of legislation may give rise to prosecution in the criminal courts (i.e., magistrates court or crown court).

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