28th November, 2023

The Powers Of A HSE Inspector

HSE inspections are carried out by people called HSE inspectors. These health and safety experts are employed by the HSE to check that workplaces are complying with health and safety laws. To carry out their work HSE inspectors have several legal powers. Here are the powers of a HSE inspector.

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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.

The purpose of a HSE inspector is to check if a business is breaking any health and safety laws and to make sure that any breaches are quickly resolved before someone gets hurt.

Since HSE inspectors enforce the health and safety laws, they are health and safety experts. They understand the law and what businesses need to do to comply.

A HSE inspector might visit your workplace as part of a proactive inspection, for example, as part of a health and safety initiative.

They can also carry out a reactive inspection, for example, following a complaint or accident.

HSE inspector powers

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:

The power to enter your premises

To carry out their duties, HSE inspectors need to be able to inspect. They can't do that without entering the workplace.

Therefore, HSE inspectors have the power to enter your premises or workplace.

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

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When can a HSE inspector visit your workplace?

Usually, a HSE 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 [...]

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.

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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 [...]

Work might be stopped temporarily, while they carry out the inspection. Or it may be stopped for longer periods.

The HSE inspector 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.

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The power to take possession

Not everything is easy to test on your site or premises. 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 [...]

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 to be signed. This can be used as evidence in any further legal action if necessary.

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, the HSE 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—

  1. state that the inspector is of the said opinion;
  2. specify the matters which in his opinion give or, as the case may be, will give rise to the said risk;
  3. 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; and
  4. 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.
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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 166 convictions listed on the HSE's public register of convictions for the last 12 months.

What should you do if a HSE inspector visits?

If a HSE inspector visits your workplace, let them have access and cooperate with them. Often, it may be a proactive inspection and they can often share some useful health and safety advice for your business.

If they do uncover any breaches, they will tell you what's gone wrong and let you know how to put it right. They won't jump straight to a prosecution - this is only for the most serious breaches.

Following an inspection, there are several actions available to the HSE inspector. They may decide on one or more of these actions, depending on if they find any issues and how significant those issues are.

You should continue to comply with the HSE inspector, and fix any breaches so that you can continue your work safely and minimise the [fee for intervention]*(/blog/management/hse-fee-intervention-charges-explained).

*The HSE charges 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, results in a fee that the business must pay.

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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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