18th February, 2021
FFI stands for 'fee for intervention' was introduced under the Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012. FFI aims to recover the HSE's related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action, charging businesses that are in breach of health and safety regulations.
Before 2012, if you got a visit from the HSE and something was wrong with your health and safety practices, you may have got written advice, formal caution or an enforcement notice. And if there was a serious issue, you were at risk of prosecution. And that's still the case today. But since 2012, the HSE has also been charging businesses that are in breach of health and safety regulations under the fee for intervention (FFI) programme.
23.—(1) Subject to regulation 24, if—
- a person is contravening or has contravened one or more of the relevant statutory provisions for which the Executive is the enforcing authority; and
- an inspector is of the opinion that that person is doing so or has done so, and notifies that person in writing of that opinion,
a fee is payable by that person to the Executive for its performance of the functions described in paragraphs (2) and (3).
That's right, anything above verbal advice, and you will get an invoice from the HSE, not only for the time spent on your site during the visit but also for any time spent investigating and writing cautions or notices.
But what are these charges and when will you be charged?
The headline figure is currently £157 per hour, which includes several increased from the original £124, to £129 in 2016, and £154 per hour in 2019.
Ok, it is pricey, but the inspector should only be on your site for a couple of hours, right?
Actually, it's not just the time on the visit that you get invoiced for. If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety laws (more on that later), you will get charged. Not just for the inspectors time on site, but also any associated time spent on issuing notices, taking statements, getting specialist support and follow up visits. The average fee for intervention invoice is reported to be around £700, and for enforcement notices, £1,500.
Invoices include time spent:
In 2017/18, the HSE invoiced over £15 million in fines to businesses, and that was before the FFI fee increased over 20%
It's worth noting that while HSE inspectors have the power of entry, and they can visit at any time, you won't always be charged under FFI. You are not just charged the moment the HSE inspector turns up at your workplace. The HSE will still do random inspections, and you are not automatically charged for this.
To carry out their work, HSE inspectors have many legal powers, including the right to enter and inspect your workplace. Find out more about the powers of HSE inspectors.
You will only be charged where the HSE inspector identifies a material breach of the law. A material breach is where you have broken a health and safety law and the inspector judges this is serious enough for them to notify you in writing. That's anything serious enough to need a formal caution or enforcement action to make it safe. This will either be a notification of contravention, an improvement or prohibition notice, or a prosecution.
So if you are complying with the law, then you won't have to pay a fee at all.
You can't avoid HSE inspections - they can happen randomly. But you can avoid being targetted by HSE inspections. Because HSE inspections can also happen following a complaint or an accident report. If you make sure you comply with your legal health and safety duties, to provide a safe and healthy workplace, you are less likely to get inspected.
And even if you do get inspected, FFI doesn't need to be a concern. Providing that the HSE inspector is happy with what they find in your workplace, and you have reduced risk as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), you shouldn't be issued with an invoice after the visit.
And not everything has to be perfect, HSE inspectors are still giving verbal advice and help during the inspection free of charge, providing only minor issues are identified.
The FFI scheme was fairly controversial when it was introduced back in 2012, no doubt about it. But it looks like it is here to stay. So even if you disagree with the concept, it's the law. And the thinking behind it is that the HSE is an enforcing authority. It's needed to enforce the health and safety laws where they are not being complied with and to protect workers from unsafe workplaces. So, it makes sense that those that are breaking the rules pay for the enforcement action required.
But not everything is black and white in health and safety. Health and safety regulations are less prescriptive rules and often puts the responsibility onto employers to manage risk. This might mean that your interpretation of the requirements differs from the HSE inspectors.
If you do decide to dispute an FFI invoice, your dispute goes to an independent HSE panel. But disputing the invoice comes with its own risks. If the dispute doesn't go in your favour, more time means additional fees!
Find out more about the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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