What to expect when a health and safety officer from the Council calls.
A brief guide for businesses, employees and their representatives.
This page is intended for those in business who have duties under health and safety law (‘dutyholders’), for example, employers and those in control of workplaces. It explains what you can expect when a health and safety officer calls at your workplace. It also tells employees and their representatives what information they may expect from an inspector during a visit.
Who enforces health and safety law?
In the Council's area, health and safety law is enforced by officers from the Council for certain classes of premises (e.g. offices, shops, warehouses, and leisure & entertainment premises) and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who are responsible for factories, government buildings, schools, hospital etc).
Powers of health and safety inspectors
Officers have the right to enter any workplace at a reasonable time without giving notice but normally an appointment is made for routine visits/inspection. During these visits/inspections, an officer would expect to look at the workplace, the work activities, your health and safety documentation, and to check that you are complying with health and safety law. The officer will offer guidance or advice to help you and may also talk to employee(s) and their representatives (if any). At the end of the visit/inspection the officer will normally provide an inspection report (and sometimes a letter as well). In addition, during investigations, officers may take statements, photographs or samples, seize documents/equipment, stop unsafe activities etc.
Enforcing health and safety law
On finding a breach of health and safety law, the officer will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach, and will be based on the principles set out in the Council’s Enforcement Policy. The officer should provide employees or their representatives with information about any formal action taken, or which is necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.
Officers can take any of the following enforcement action:
For minor breaches, the officer will tell the dutyholder what is wrong and how to comply. This will be confirmed in writing.
For more serious breaches, the officer may issue an improvement notice to formally require the dutyholder to take action. The officer will discuss the improvement notice and, if possible, resolve points of difference before serving it. The notice will say what needs to be done, why, and by when. The officer will normally discuss the time period needed for the remedial action and this will be at least 21 days, to allow the dutyholder time to appeal to an employment Tribunal if they so wish (see ‘ Appeals’). The officer can take further legal action if the notice is not complied with within the specified time period.
Where an activity involves, or will involve, a risk of serious personal injury, the officer may serve a prohibition notice prohibiting the activity immediately or after a specified time period, and not allowing it to be resumed until remedial action has been taken. The notice will explain why the action is necessary. The dutyholder will be given details in writing about their right of appeal to an Employment Tribunal (see ‘Appeals’ below).
In some cases the officer may consider that it is also necessary to initiate a prosecution. Decisions on whether to prosecute are informed by the principles in the Council’s Enforcement Policy. Health and safety law gives the courts considerable scope for punishing offenders and deterring others. For example, a failure to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice, or a court remedy order, carries a fine of up to £20 000, or six months’ imprisonment, or both. Unlimited fines and in some cases imprisonment may be imposed by higher courts.
As an alternative to prosecution action, in some cases, a simple caution (as) may be offered to dutyholders, provided:
- There are sufficient grounds to institute legal proceedings;
- The Case meets the Council’s criteria for simple cautions;
- The dutyholder admits the alleged offences; and
- The dutyholder agrees to a simple caution and that it will kept on file and will be cited should they subsequently be found guilty of an offence by a Court of Law.
A dutyholder will be told in writing about the right of appeal to an Employment Tribunal when an improvement or prohibition notice is served. The appeal mechanism is also explained on the reverse of the notice. The dutyholder will be:
- Told how to appeal;
- Given an Appeal Form;
- Given details on where to appeal;
- Told what period an appeal may be brought; and
- Advised that the remedial action required by an improvement notice is suspended while an appeal is pending.
Information to employees or their representatives
During a normal inspection visit an officer will expect to check that dutyholders (e.g. employers or managers) have arrangements in place for consulting and informing employees or their representatives, e.g. safety representatives, about health and safety matters. Such arrangements are required by law.
An officer may meet or speak to employees or their representatives during a visit, wherever possible, unless this is clearly inappropriate because of the purpose of the visit. When they meet, employees or their representatives should always be given the opportunity to speak privately to the officer, if they so wish.
The officer will provide employees or their representatives with certain information where necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.
This information relates to the workplace or activity taking place there, and action which the officer has taken or proposes to take. The type of information that an officer will provide includes:
- matters which an officer considers to be of serious concern;
- details of any enforcement action taken by the officer; and
- an intention to prosecute the business (but not before the dutyholder is informed)
Depending on the circumstances, the officer may provide this information orally or in writing.