How the Health and Safety Executive enforces the law

Lesson Progress:

The HSE is a Government body responsible for overseeing most aspects of workplace health and safety in the UK. The HSE’s main roles are listed below.

  • Offer advice on workplace health and safety.
  • Carry out workplace inspections.
  • Conduct serious accident investigations.
  • Carry out enforcement action for health and safety breaches.
HSE inspectors can issue notices if they think it necessary

HSE inspectors have the following powers.

  • The legal power to demand entry to the workplace without notice, with a police officer if necessary.
  • Can interview you or anyone else, with or without caution.
  • Can prosecute a company, an employer or an individual employee, in a Magistrates’ or Crown Court.
  • Can raise and issue improvement or prohibition notices, on an employer or an individual worker. Such notices must be complied with.
  • Can charge the employer a fee for intervention.
  • Can measure, and take photographs, samples or possession of anything, if required for evidence.
  • Can inspect record books and any other documents.
  • Can demand that the scene of an accident remains undisturbed.

Improvement notices

These are issued if something is unsafe, not up to standard or not being adequately controlled. They will say how, in the HSE inspector’s opinion, the law was being broken and give a date by which things must be put right or improved.

Prohibition notices

These are issued when, in the inspector’s opinion, something is so unsafe that all work connected to it must stop immediately (on issue of the notice), and must not start again until the matter has been put right.

Fee for intervention

The HSE can charge an hourly rate for the time the HSE inspector spends investigating a breach of health and safety law, including visits, letter writing and ensuring that the matter has been put right.

Examples of HSE prosecutions

Operator blamed by HSE, as employer had provided proper training

A 25-year-old street lighting operative, employed by a highways maintenance contractor, has been ordered to pay over £5,000 in fines and prosecution costs after failing to put up temporary barriers around the lamp where he was working.

A toddler was injured when part of a streetlight fell as she was passing underneath.

The child was in a pram being pushed along a London street when the reflector from a streetlight struck her on the head, causing a wound that needed stitches.

The operative had been told to investigate a faulty street lamp in Hackney, London. When he detached the reflector at the top of the lamppost it fell toward the mother and her daughter below.

Temporary barriers should have been used to separate pedestrians from the work area around the lamp before the operative dismantled the reflector. The operative pleaded guilty to breaching Section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was fined £2,250 and ordered to pay costs of £2,888.

Speaking after the case, a HSE inspector said: ‘This was a serious incident that needlessly injured a small child and caused her mother understandable distress. No blame can be attached to the contractor as the operative had been properly trained by his employer to carry out this kind of work safely. Individual employees must realise that they face criminal prosecution by the HSE if they show a reckless disregard for health and safety, putting others at serious risk’.

Company fined £2.4 million following two corporate manslaughter charges

A construction company director has been jailed after two workers fell from a first-floor balcony at a luxury flat in Knightsbridge, West London. The 44-year-old director of the renovation firm was found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and received a 14 month prison sentence for each death, which will run concurrently. He was also barred from being a company director for four years.

The company, which has gone into liquidation since the incident, despite previously having an annual turnover of around £9.7 million, was found guilty of two counts of corporate manslaughter and two breaches of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The company was fined £1.2 million for each death and £650,000 for Health and Safety at Work etc. Act breaches, all of which apply concurrently. It must also pay £72,000 costs.

The court heard that in November 2014 two Polish nationals, aged 22 and 29 years, fell from the balcony of a flat in London’s Cadogan Square, which was being refurbished by the renovation company. The men were part of a group of five workers who were using ropes to haul a 115 kg sofa up 6 m, over a balustrade and onto a balcony, with only the iron Victorian railings of the balcony acting as a barrier. The 130 year old railings gave way and the two men fell from the balcony to the ground. The 22 year old was pronounced dead at the scene, while the 29 year old was taken to a central London hospital in a critical condition, where he later died of his injuries.

The sofa delivery company had recommended that an external furniture lift should be hired for the lift and had emailed the director of the renovation company with an estimated budget of £848 to hire an external lift. The director responded with a message saying: ‘Unfortunately, we do not have time for all that. Please deliver the sofa and we will get it up to the flat’.

The work on the flat was over budget and behind schedule. The budget had increased from around £650,000 to as much as £920,000. The court heard that on the day of the accident there was a failure to identify who was supervising the site. The prosecution told the court that none of the training documents provided were in Polish, despite the workers not speaking English, suggesting that the documents were there ‘just for show’. The men were also not provided with a plan, method statement or risk assessment before the task started.

The judge stated that the director’s motive for ignoring the warnings about the furniture lift: ‘must have been in one way or another to benefit his business. The word has got to get out that health and safety on building sites is not a boring technicality.

It is vital to the safety of employees and others in what is inherently a dangerous environment. Those who are wilfully blind to the risks, despite warnings – as you were – have got to expect to go immediately to prison’.

(Source: HSE.)