If the HSE visit your premises or site and find something wrong, they will expect you to put it right. They may give your verbal or written advice. They might issue a formal caution. Or you may get an enforcement notice.
One of the powers of a HSE inspector is to issue an enforcement notice. These enforcement notices are a way to remedy breaches of health and safety quickly. It's effective immediately.
There are two types of enforcement notices issued by the HSE:
Both types of notice will include a summary of the inspector's opinion, and details of the breach(es) and danger(s) that have been observed.
But what are the differences between an improvement notice and a prohibition notice? While both mean there has been a breach of health and safety regulations, they have slightly different consequences.
An improvement notice, as you can probably guess, means there needs to be an improvement. It is issued when work has taken place or is taking place, that doesn't comply with health and safety laws. The notice will identify a breach in the law, that needs to be addressed.
The improvement notice applies as soon as it is issued but it doesn't require immediate action (although you should take action as soon as you reasonably can). The improvement notice won't just tell you what needs to be improved, but also when it needs to be improved by. A deadline. A time limit by which you need to fix the issue.
So, instead of stopping work right away, you get time to make things right. The deadline will be at least 21 days (to allow time for appeals) but can be longer. This is down to the inspector. They will look at the seriousness of the breach, and how quickly it can be put right.
specify the period for compliance, which should be not less than 21 days from the date of service of the notice
Of course, you shouldn't wait until the deadline to fix any problems. If any issues arise or an accident happens, and you're in breach of health and safety laws, there could be further consequences. Like prosecutions or prohibition notices. So it's best to get the matter resolved as quickly as you can.
But, putting in place safety measures can take time. If you have been issued with an improvement notice, you have time on your side to make the necessary changes.
If you feel an improvement notice is wrong, it can be appealed. During the appeal of an improvement notice, the notice is suspended while the appeal takes place.
A prohibition notice will be issued for more serious health and safety problems. This notice has more of an immediate impact because it stops work. As soon a prohibition notice is served by the HSE, the activity must stop.
the act of officially not allowing something, or an order that does this
A prohibition notice would be issued where the inspection feels there is a serious risk of personal injury to one or more people. For example, if moving parts of machinery are not guarded, or work at height is being carried out without any edge protection.
This type of notice is usually issued in person, to the person carrying out the activity, even if they are not legally responsible for the safety measures. This is to make sure they stop work, and the dangerous activity, right away.
A copy of the notice will then be issued to the employer, who has legal responsibilities to ensure the work is carried out safely.
Unlike the improvement notice, the prohibition notice doesn't need a deadline. Work just simply cannot happen until the matters are resolved. Sometimes, where work is happening, the prohibition notice may be delayed to allow the section of work to finish, if stopping immediately would introduce additional risks, or for example, if workers need to get to a place of safety.
The work doesn't necessarily need to have taken place for a prohibition notice to be issued. Where there is an anticipation that something dangerous is about to happen, this notice can be issued to stop that work from happening.
Just like with an improvement notice, you have the right to appeal against a prohibition notice, if you feel it is wrong. However, the prohibition notice remains in place during the appeal process.
While there are two types of enforcement notices, HSE inspectors can choose to issue one, the other or both. And just because the prohibition notice is more severe, doesn't mean you need to get an improvement notice first. For example, a prohibition notice can be issued to stop a dangerous activity. It may be followed by an improvement notice to address the breaches that lead to the risks found.
Prosecutions can follow either type of notice. This could be for failure to comply with an enforcement notice, or for the health and safety breach itself.
Find out more about the powers of HSE inspectors, and the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers.