The Powers of an HSE Inspector

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforces health and safety regulations. They can carry out inspections in most work premises, including construction sites, factories and warehouses.

HSE inspections are carried out by HSE inspectors. These are health and safety experts, employed by the HSE to check workplaces comply with the law. Inspections may be proactive, for example, as part of a health and safety initiative. They may also be reactive, for example, following a complaint or accident.

To carry out their work, HSE inspectors have a number of legal powers, or rights. These powers are given to them by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The HSE inspector can:

Enter your premises
Examine and investigate
Stop work
Take samples, measurements and photographs
Dismantle and remove articles and substances
Take possession of articles and substances
Question you
Review, take copies of and require the production of, books or documents
Caution you
Issue enforcement notices
Initiate prosecutions

Following an inspection, there are a number of actions available to the HSE inspector. They may decide on one or more of these actions, depending on the issues found.

No action
Verbal advice
Written advice
Formal caution
Improvement notice
Prohibition notice

The power to enter your premises

In order to carry out their duties, HSE inspectors need to be able to inspect. Therefore, they have the power to enter your premises or workplace. Usually, this visit will be at any reasonable time, such as during normal work hours. However, if the inspector believes the workplace may be dangerous, they can enter at any time.

(a)at any reasonable time (or, in a situation which in his opinion is or may be dangerous, at any time) to enter any premises which he has reason to believe it is necessary for him to enter
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

HSE inspectors don't need your permission to enter. If they believe they may be obstructed, they can be supported by the police.

The power to examine and investigate

Once inside the premises, HSE inspectors have the power to examine and investigate. Any part of the premises, any equipment, and any article or substance.

The power to stop work

The HSE inspector has the power to stop work. This may be temporary, while they carry out the inspection.

(e)as regards any premises which he has power to enter, to direct that those premises or any part of them, or anything therein, shall be left undisturbed (whether generally or in particular respects) for so long as is reasonably necessary for the purpose of any examination or investigation
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Work may also be stopped for longer periods. The HSE inspector also has the power to dismantle and remove equipment, which may prevent work from continuing. They can also issue prohibition notices, legally stopping work from continuing.

The power to take samples, measurements and photographs

As part of their inspection, the HSE inspector has the power to take samples of any articles or substances found in any premises. This will likely be for testing. For example, if they believe workplace exposure levels are exceeded.

HSE inspectors also have the power to take measurements and photographs. These may be used as evidence if enforcement action or prosecutions follow.

The power to dismantle and remove

HSE inspectors have the power to dismantle equipment for testing or taking samples. They can do this if they believe any article or substances have caused or are likely to cause danger to health or safety.

The power to take possession

Not everything is easy to test on site. So HSE inspectors have the power to take possession, of anything they have dismantled or removed. This allows them to undertake a thorough examination and carry out any necessary testing. It also ensures that equipment cannot be tampered with before the examination of it is completed.

(i)in the case of any such article or substance as is mentioned in the preceding paragraph, to take possession of it and detain it for so long as is necessary
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The HSE inspector may also take possession of items that may be used as evidence in any proceedings for an offence.

The power to question you

HSE inspectors have the power to question anyone they believe may be able to give any information relevant to the investigation or inspection. They may take a statement, and require it be signed.

The power to inspect documents

The HSE inspector may review, take copies of and require the production of, books or documents. For example, they may wish to see a copy of your risk assessments, or a permit to work for high-risk activities.

The power to enforce

Where a breach is found, and a business is not complying with health and safety laws, the HSE inspector has the power to enforce. For small breaches that can be easily rectified, they may decide to caution you.

Usually, if a breach in health and safety law is identified, they will take enforcement action. This can be done through an improvement notice or a prohibition notice.

An improvement notice details the opinion of the HSE inspector and specifies a date for the situation to be put right.

A prohibition notice stops work as soon as it is issued. It is issued where the inspector believes there is a risk of serious personal injury. The notice will specify the matters that need to be corrected, and work will not be able to continue until the issue is resolved.

(3)A prohibition notice shall—

a.state that the inspector is of the said opinion
b.specify the matters which in his opinion give or, as the case may be, will give rise to the said risk
c.where in his opinion any of those matters involves or, as the case may be, will involve a contravention of any of the relevant statutory provisions, state that he is of that opinion, specify the provision or provisions as to which he is of that opinion, and give particulars of the reasons why he is of that opinion;
d.and direct that the activities to which the notice relates shall not be carried on by or under the control of the person on whom the notice is served unless the matters specified in the notice in pursuance of paragraph (b) above and any associated contraventions of provisions so specified in pursuance of paragraph (c) above have been remedied.
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The power to prosecute

For serious breaches, a prosecution may follow. This only happens in more serious cases, but it is not rare. There are 429 prosecution cases listed on the HSE's public register of prosecutions for the last 12 months.

Since 2012, the HSE has been charging businesses that are in breach of health and safety regulations under the fee for intervention (FFI) programme. Any action that is taken by the HSE inspector in writing, e.g. anything above verbal advice, now results in a fee.

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