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When an inspector calls?
The following information is a brief guide for businesses, employees and their representatives on what to expect when a health and safety inspector calls.
When an inspector calls
Inspectors have the right to enter any workplace without giving notice, though notice may be given where the inspector thinks it is appropriate. On a normal inspection visit an inspector would expect to look at the workplace, the work activities, your management of health and safety, and to check that you are complying with health and safety law. The inspector may offer guidance or advice to help you. He/she may also talk to employees and their representatives, take photographs and samples, serve improvement notices and take action if there is a risk to health and safety which needs to be dealt with immediately.
Enforcing health and safety law
On finding a breach of health and safety law, the inspector will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach.The inspector should provide employees or their representatives with information about any action taken, or which is necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.
Inspectors may take enforcement action in several ways to deal with a breach of the law. In most cases these are:
Where the breach of the law is relatively minor, the inspector may tell the dutyholder, for example the employer or contractor, what to do to comply with the law, and explain why. The inspector will, if asked, write to confirm any advice, and to distinguish legal requirements from best practice advice.
Where the breach of the law is more serious, the inspector may issue an improvement notice to tell the dutyholder to do something to comply with the law. The inspector 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 time period within which to take the remedial action will be at least 21 days, to allow the dutyholder time to appeal to an Industrial Tribunal if they so wish (see 'Appeals' below). The inspector 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 inspector 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 told in writing about the right of appeal to an Industrial Tribunal (see 'Appeals' below).
In some cases the inspector may consider that it is also necessary to initiate a prosecution. 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.
A dutyholder will be told in writing about the right of appeal to an Industrial 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, and given a form with which to appeal
- where and within what period an appeal may be brought
- 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 inspector will expect to check that employers, have arrangements in place for consulting and informing employees or safety representatives, about health and safety matters. Such arrangements are required by law.
An inspector will 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 inspector, if they so wish.
The inspector 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 inspector has taken or proposes to take. The type of information that an inspector will provide includes:
- matters which an inspector considers to be of serious concern
- details of any enforcement action taken by the inspector
- an intention to prosecute the business (but not before the dutyholder is informed).
Depending on the circumstances, the inspector may provide this information orally or in writing.