An unexpected visit from a health and safety inspector can leave businesses feeling blindsided – and even our most meticulous clients are puzzled about the protocol. Can you refuse entry? Will they seize documents and property? Could they shut you down?

To avoid hefty fines or enforcement notices, cooperation and clear understanding are key. Our partners share the inside track on inspections.

‘Different industry, different inspector’

Health and safety laws are most often enforced by HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Inspectors, but certain companies – such as builders merchants – will be visited by Environmental Health Officers from their local authority.  

‘Expect the unexpected’

Most companies undergo a routine inspection every few years. If you’ve had an accident or complaint about workplace safety standards, however, you should anticipate a knock on the door shortly after.

‘Think before you say no’

 While inspectors do have the right to enter your premises at any reasonable time, you can politely ask if they could return at a later date. This isn’t recommended, however, as it can be seen as obstructive behavior. Inspectors ultimately have the power to shut down business processes or hand over a large fine – so the more accommodating you can be, the better.

‘Know the importance of your risk score rating’

Businesses posing the highest risks, as well as those that fail to manage health and safety properly, are the most pressing priorities for inspectors.

During a visit, your business will be assessed across physical safety provisions, documentation standards and ‘confidence in management’, then given a risk rating score. If you are polite, amenable and effectively demonstrate a commitment to safety, you’ll achieve a lower risk rating score, resulting in less frequent inspector visits.

Prohibition Notices can immediately stop production’

Health and safety inspectors have the power to take enforcement action, which could be anything from giving advice, through to serving an Improvement Notice, Prohibition Notice and/or prosecuting. While they can’t close down your organisation, they can serve Prohibition Notices that can shut down a piece, or pieces, of equipment or machinery. Depending on the nature of your business, this could stop production in its tracks.  

‘They might take photos and talk to your team’  

An inspector can also talk to staff, take witness statements or interview under caution if they suspect something is not as it should be. In this situation, they can seize documents, take photographs or measurements, or disable equipment to prevent it from being used again in the short term.

‘You could be charged for the HSE’s time’   

It’s important to note that the HSE (and not Local Authorities) operate a Fee for Intervention (FFI) cost recovery scheme. If you’re breaking health and safety laws, the HSE may recover its costs by charging a fee for the time and effort it spends to help you solve your issues, such as investigating and taking enforcement action. The fee payable by duty holders found to be in material breach of the law is £157 per hour. This is based on the amount of time it takes the HSE to identify and conclude its regulatory action, in relation to the material breach (including associated office work), multiplied by the relevant hourly rate.

Talk to us

Southalls helps builders merchants stay on top of their health and safety legal requirements, keeping their staff and customers safe and their businesses compliant. For more information about safety inspections, email or call us on 0345 257 4015.