Enforcing Authority for Health and Safety in the Workplace. Part 1

woman working in factory enforced by hse

Introduction

Ensuring the health safety and welfare of employees and others at work is a key requirement of health and safety legislation directed at employers.  But what happens if something goes wrong and a inspector from an enforcing authority for health and safety pays you a visit?  In a series of 5 blog posts we will take you through:

  • The enforcing authority for health and safety in the workplace;
  • Powers of inspectors;
  • What happens prior to and during a visit?
  • What is fee for intervention (FFI)?
  • Do’s and don’ts on the day of an inspection;
  • Section 20 and PACE interviews;
  • What happens after a visit?

In this blog post we will cover:

  • The enforcing authority for health and safety in the workplace?
  • Powers of inspectors?

What is the aim of an inspector?

A visit from a health and safety inspector isn’t something many would welcome because they carry a warrant card and reputedly look to find fault and prosecute wherever possible.  Although inspectors have had a bad press over the years, contrary to popular belief, they are not “out to get” businesses; their aim is a good one – to make workplaces safer, and to ensure the health, safety and welfare of those working in and visiting premises.

Who are the enforcing authority for health and safety in the workplace?

Health and safety inspectors either work for the Local Authority (LA) or for the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).  Fire safety is enforced by the fire and rescue service.

HSE inspectors have responsibility for organisations that are:

In general, HSE inspectors tend to be involved in the regulation of higher risk premises.  They also regulate the activities of local authorities.

As well as employing inspectors, the HSE employs visiting officers.  These officers do not have the same powers as inspectors but you may find them alongside inspectors or following up inspector-led investigations by providing additional information.

Local authority inspectors cover the following workplaces:

  • retailing from small shops to department stores;
  • some warehouses;
  • most offices;
  • hotels and catering establishments;
  • sports;
  • leisure;
  • consumer services businesses; and
  • places of worship.

As well as general health and safety issues, local authority inspectors cover food safety.  Local authorities employ environmental health officers (EHOs) to enforce health and safety in the workplaces where they have responsibility.

When you’re being visited, you can check their powers by asking to see their authorisation warrant.  This sets out the enforcement duties that they are authorised to carry out and tells you if they have the authority to come onto your premises uninvited.  No inspector will be sent out who doesn’t possess the authority to conduct an inspection.

How do you know who enforces health and safety in your business?

It’s not always obvious which enforcing authority is responsible for enforcing health and safety at a particular business and even the authorities themselves can get confused.  In general, their jurisdictions do not cross, i.e. two different enforcing authorities do not cover the same premises.

The place to find the answer is the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998.  These Regulations are written in a rather complicated way but fortunately, to help inspectors and others to understand them, the HSE has published a circular which can be found here

How much authority do inspectors have?

Health and safety inspectors from the HSE or local authorities have extensive powers that are in many ways greater than those of the police. The most significant one is their power of entry. They can enter a business premises without invitation or notice, and without the need for a warrant. Entry can be made at any reasonable time, and if there’s a dangerous situation, they can enter at any time.  The number of proactive inspections undertaken by the LA is very limited as these are directed by the HSE.

They may choose to bring with them other persons authorised by their enforcing authority, including police officers if they believe they may be obstructed in their duties. They are also empowered to examine and investigate, interview, take photos, take samples, seize articles, copy documents and so on.  Most actions are permitted, provided that they can justify that it was for the purpose of carrying out their duties.

It’s worth noting that certain documents are legally privileged and inspectors don’t have a right to see these. Such documents are those “written in contemplation of defending a prosecution or legal action“. An example would be correspondence between a company and their solicitor about a forthcoming case.

Key Conclusions

  • health and safety inspectors are employed by either your Local Authority, or the Health & Safety Executive (HSE);
  • each authority has its own area of jurisdiction; however, it’s becoming increasingly common for inspectors from both bodies to work together;
  • an inspector’s main aim is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of those working at and visiting a premises; and
  • inspectors have a power of entry which allows them to come on to your premises whenever they see fit.

In our next blog we will look at what you should do in preparation for a visit and what to expect during a visit.

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