Improvement Notice a Possible Outcome After an Inspector’s Visit. Part 5

person reading either improvement notice, prohibition notice, notice of contravention, prosecution

In our previous blog we looked at 12 health and safety tips that should be used on the day of the inspection to ensure as much as possible, the smooth running of the inspection.  In this our final blog of the series we will look at the possible outcomes from an inspection that the inspector could consider.

Possible Inspection Outcomes

During the inspection it’s likely that you will receive plenty of verbal advice on various matters.  Some of this might just be an inspector’s personal opinion on best practice rather than being founded in legislation.   This advice could be verbal or in writing.  The recommendations which must be actioned are those which are backed up in writing.

Letter

Within a couple of weeks of the visit you’ll usually receive a letter identifying areas where improvements should occur.  This is known as a notification of contravention (NoC).  This will only be provided if the inspector feels that a material breach has been found and the law has been broken.  The letter will indicate what you need to do in order to comply with statutory requirements.  The inspector will ask you to write back within a certain timescale confirming the actions you are taking in response.

Bill

If you have been dealing with a HSE inspector and receive a NoC, ie; a material breach has been found, you will receive a FFI bill for the inspector’s time and that of any other specialist they need to involve.

Improvement notice

The inspector may issue an improvement notice where there is a breach of statutory requirements, say, where there’s no hot water provided or where required safety training hasn’t been carried out.  The notice will set a date by which time the work must be completed.

If you disagree with the requirements set out in the notice, it’s advisable to register an appeal, and this must be completed within 21 days.  Appealing has the effect of suspending the notice until the hearing.  If you don’t appeal, the contents of the notice will stand, your organisation’s name will be placed on the HSE’s enforcement database and the notice could be taken into account in any future court hearing as evidence of a previous poor record.   If the appeal fails, all this will still happen, but it’s worth pursuing if you think there are good grounds.

Note: If a notice stands, i.e. it is not appealed against or the appeal is dismissed, it’s very important that it’s complied with within the timescale set out in the notice.

Prohibition notice

Prohibition notices take effect from the moment they’re issued, and even if you appeal, the notice will stand until the tribunal hearing.  The notices are issued where there’s a risk of serious personal injury.  Therefore, the commercial implications of receiving one of these notices should never be underestimated.  Like improvement notices, failure to comply with the notice is likely to result in prosecution, with stiffer penalties, due to the risks of the breach being potentially more serious.

Prohibition notices may be issued for a particular activity, use of a particular piece of equipment, use of part of a premises or, indeed, the entire site.  However, it’s very rare for an inspector to close down a business completely.  This usually happens only in relation to very poorly managed construction sites where there is imminent danger to persons present.

There are less likely to be grounds to appeal against a prohibition notice – their issue will be in response to a serious danger.  However, if you do have grounds, bear in mind that the appeal must be lodged within 21 days.

Prosecution

In serious cases, the enforcing authority may decide to prosecute. This is usually where disregard for the law has led to a serious accident or where non-compliance has continued despite advice from the inspector.  The decision to prosecute must go through senior managers and comply with the enforcement decision-making process of that enforcement authority, e.g. is it in the public interest to prosecute? or does the seriousness of the offence merit a prosecution?

Closing remarks

A visit from a LA or HSE inspector can be a stressful experience especially if the visit is unannounced.  If you have the necessary provisions in place, a visit could be a useful exercise in demonstrating key health and safety initiatives that have been implemented and how they have improved health and safety performance.

If you fall short of health and safety requirements as we’ve indicated, the options available to the inspector are wide ranging and could be very expensive.  Don’t get caught out, we have assisted several organisations with getting their health and safety provisions where it needs to be.  Get in touch and see how we may be able to provide proportionate health and safety solutions based on the size and complexity of your operations.

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