As an employer or business manager, you want to make sure that things run smoothly, but from time to time things can go wrong. If something has been overlooked or failed in your health and safety management system, you can get an enforcement notice. Enforcement notices can be a matter of criminal law, leading to fines and even prosecution in the magistrates or crown courts. Let’s be clear, you don’t want to get one of these.
This post will help you understand why organizations get issued enforcement notices, what different notices mean, and what you can do to avoid getting into trouble with them.
Why are enforcement notices issued?
Your might be concerned about being inspected, but all organisations will get a visit from a representative of The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at some point. HSE inspections can be a matter of routine, or as a response to an accident or complaint raising concerns about health and safety standards. The frequency of inspections might depend on your company’s accident record, previous compliance, and your attitude in dealing with the HSE. Their purpose is to make sure your organization is taking care of workplace health and safety to the right standards, so it’s a good idea to cooperate with an HSE inspection.
You can expect an HSE inspector to do any or all of the following:
- Request entry to your work premises and use of facilities
- Look at housekeeping/premises, equipment, systems of work, and policies and procedures
- Request access to records, including health and safety records and risk assessments
- Interview members of staff, managers, and employers
- Record details of equipment, premises, and working processes (including taking measurements and photographs)
- Confiscate faulty equipment or request it to be dismantled
- Take samples away for testing
- Require a scene to be left undisturbed pending further inspection
If an inspection identifies any issues in your health and safety procedures, you will be issued with a verbal warning, or a written enforcement notice, depending on the severity of the problem. It will give you clear information about what you need to do to make things right.
What are the different types of enforcement notice?
You want to make sure that any health and safety issues are caught in good time, and that you know what needs to be done to keep your organization safe. HSE inspections will help by identifying any problems that you have missed, and give you instructions to fix them.
Depending on the issue at hand, you might receive:
A verbal warning - informal advice or recommendation
If you are keeping on top of health and safety provisions, you won’t need to worry too much. An inspector might notice some minor slips that need to be addressed, and may give you some verbal advice or recommendations about how to rectify the situation. This is not legally binding, but your attitude towards this advice, and how actively you respond, could influence future inspections.
I’ve witnessed one of my clients receiving a letter from the HSE following an accident and it totally scared the site management team to sort out their supervision of contractors. Although the company genuinely thought they had the site management in hand, we actually recognised that we could do a lot better. Sometimes you have to put your hand-up and be honest about failures within your own systems and practices. My advice is, don’t delay in resolving issues, even if it’s just from a letter or recommendation.
An Improvement Notice - resolve in 21 days
If the inspector finds a breach of health and safety, you might get one of these. An improvement notice identifies a problem, and gives you an opportunity to correct it. It will tell you what the problem is, what you need to do, and how much time you have. This notice can be suspended during an appeal. Yes, you get time, but don’t wait until the deadline to start making changes. Be proactive in making positive changes to improve your workplace.
I recently helped a business which received 7 improvement notices from one HSE visit. The problem was that there was no accountability within the business. Standards were almost non-existent, and production was priortised over safety. You might think I was dealing with a hardnosed management team, but in reality it was a family-owned business with employees who had worked there for over 10 years. It was all down to lack of awareness and skills needed to manage risk. My tip is, call an expert ASAP if you receive an improvement notice, because resolving a deep seated problem can take more than just 21 days.
A Prohibition Notice - effective immediately (deferred in some cases)
This is the highest sanction, and you need to take it very seriously. A prohibition notice is in response to a breach of health and safety legislation that causes actual or potential harm. It requires an unsafe practice to stop right away (this might be deferred if it would be too dangerous to interrupt a process immediately). It’s usually issued in person, to the person or people doing the activity, and then a copy is provided for the employed (who has legal responsibility). A prohibition notice will identify the danger (and which law is being broken), instruct that the activity must stop until it has been rectified, and outline what you need to do. It will not be suspended during an appeal
Whatever level of notice you receive, it is in your interests to address any health and safety issues quickly and thoroughly. If it’s a small issue, it will probably save you bigger problems down the line. If you get an improvement or prohibition notice, you have to deal with it as a matter or urgency.
How to respond to an enforcement notice
If you get any kind of warning or enforcement notice, you will want to take action sooner rather than later. Failure to respond to an HSE instruction can result in further inspection and more notices, at best, and prosecution, fines, and criminal charges, at worst.
To make sure you don’t run foul of the law, you should take care of the following:
- Know your health and safety protocol - Have a clear understanding of your health and safety management systems, risk assessment records, work spaces and processes, and what policies and instructions are in place.
- Cooperate with the KSE inspectorate - Make a good impression, be polite, and don’t obstruct or antagonise an inspector in their work. This will only lead to greater scrutiny.
- Respond promptly and proactively to any warnings or notices - Ignoring a notice will lead to a fine or prosecution, and reflect badly on your organisation.
- Appeal if there are reasonable grounds - if there was a fault in the inspection process, the proposed solution isn’t reasonably practicable, the time given is too short, or the breach is insignificant.
- Seek help - Get guidance from a health and safety consultant, who will help you understnad what has gone wrong, and how to make things right.
You want the HSE to know that you take health and safety seriously, and that you will do whatever is necessary to comply with the law, and keep your workforce well-protected.
As a responsible and caring employer, you don’t want to find yourself being handed an enforcement notice, but you need to know what they are about. Prevention is better than repair, of course, but if you do get served with a notice, think of it as an opportunity to improve your working practice. Cooperate with the inspectorate and communicate with your workforce, to make sure that your organization runs smoothly and effectively, and you are taking the best possible care of the people you work with.
Has your organization been inssued with an enforcement notice? Leave a comment below if you have any questions!