The Health and Safety Executive, usually shortened to HSE in the "trade", are the agency responsible for enforcing Health and Safety in the Workplace law in the UK. They also provide guidance on and promote awareness of these issues to the general public. Whilst it holds a key role in enforcing legislation, its mission is to also to help prevent people from being killed, injured or made ill whilst at work.
The Executive is directly responsible for legal compliance in higher risk locations e.g. oil rigs, mines, nuclear plants, factories, building sites and utilities as well as hospitals, schools and colleges and government locations.
In addition to the Executive, more than 400 local authorities are used to enforce Health and Safety law at a local level and are responsible for hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs, shops, offices, nurseries and playgroups, sheltered accommodation, care homes, places of worship and privately owned museums. A number of other agencies deal with specific aspects of Health and Safety e.g. the Fire Service for fire related issues and Environmental Health for food hygiene and pollution.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 gives the Executive's inspectors, including those working in local authorities, wide ranging powers. Whilst their focus aims to be preventative and provide assistance, an inspector may informally advise you of a minor breach and explain how you can comply with the law and why the action is necessary.
Invariably though the Executive spend considerable time investigating incidents and have a number of enforcement powers including serving improvement and prohibition notices, entering premises with the police to examine an incident scene, gather evidence and require anyone to answer questions if they have reasonable cause to believe they hold relevant information.
Health and Safety Executive inspectors may visit a business location at any time and they have the right to enter without giving notice to a business owner. Usually an inspector will only physically visit premises following a serious accident although due to budget constraints the Executive have seen a reduction in personnel so can no longer be as visible as they used to be. If an accident is less serious, the Executive will investigate via email, letters and by the telephone. Whilst not as stressful as a physical visit, they still have the power to serve an improvement notice, or worse - a prohibition notice.
An improvement notice is issued if a Health and Safety breach is serious and, once issued, you have at least 21 days in which to remedy the situation. The inspector will review the work completed and if acceptable then no further action will be taken. However, if the work completed does not meet the required standard the Executive can issue a prohibition notice or start legal proceedings although this will only be in cases where the risk is still high with little or no evidence it is being improved quickly enough.
An enforcement notice is exactly as the title suggests and will stop work activity taking place until the deficiency in the activity is resolved. An enforcement notice can start immediately or be deferred which gives a limited timescale in which to complete the work.
So the Health and Safety Executive are the highest authority for the enforcement of health and safety law in the UK so you must be aware of their powers as a business owner. Making sure that you are meeting all the requirements of UK legislation will mean that, hopefully, you will never meet your own Executive inspector.
Nigel J Welford is a qualified Health & Safety professional and believes in making health and safety as simple as possible whilst still being effective and meeting all the regulations. For his free report "The Secret To How Health & Safety Can Improve Your Business And Profits: 7 Everyday Pitfalls To Avoid" from http://bit.ly/TI68sD
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