Guide How health and safety is enforced

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4. What happens if the inspector finds something unsafe?

Inspectors are trained to be consistent in their actions and follow set procedures so that employers in similar circumstances should be treated in a similar way.

Our main aim is to help and advise but formal enforcement action may need to be taken. We consider a number of factors in deciding what action to take, including:

  • the degree of risk
  • the seriousness of the legal contravention
  • past record and general attitude to health and safety
  • if there has been a blatant disregard for the law
  • if there is sufficient evidence

Formal enforcement powers include the issue of improvement or prohibition notices:

  • Improvement Notices tell you what the problem is and require things to put right within a certain time. The Inspector would usually discuss the time limit with you and explain how to get it extended if there is good reason.
  • Prohibition Notices tell you what the problem is and require you to stop doing something until things are put right. These are only issued if it is considered that there is a risk of serious injury.

Notices will contain an explanation of what you must do to comply. You are often allowed to use a different but equally effective alternative. When notices are issued, a copy will be provided for any employees. The law requires some notices to be put in a register, which is open to public inspection. Failure to comply with a notice is a serious offence and is likely to lead to prosecution. If you appeal against an Improvement Notice it is suspended until the appeal is heard. A Prohibition Notice usually remains in force until the appeal is heard. An appeal form will be enclosed with either type of notice.

The inspector can also decide to prosecute any company and/or individual breaking the law.

Prosecution is more likely where there:

  • is a blatant disregard for the law (particularly for economic reasons)
  • is reckless disregard for the health and safety of work people and others
  • have been repeated breaches of legislation and management is neither willing nor structured to deal adequately with these
  • has been a serious accident or a case of ill-health arising from a substantial legal contravention

or where:

  • a particular type of offence is prevalent in an activity or area
  • a particular contravention has caused justifiable, serious public concern

The laws that Inspectors enforce take account of the costs of what you are required to do. This means that the action required must be in proportion to the risks concerned.