HEALTH & SAFETY | HSE Enforcement Notices Explained

All businesses have a duty of care to make sure all applicable Health & Safety regulations are complied with.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority inspectors have powers (under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974) to ensure your business is complying with Health & Safety law by:

  • entering premises
  • interviewing employees
  • obtaining witness statements
  • taking photographs
  • removing and destroying any machinery felt to be dangerous

Inspectors also have the power to issue HSE enforcement notices (improvement or prohibition) to prevent and/or stop unsafe workplace activities.

Improvement Notices

Inspectors will issue HSE enforcement notices if they feel you’re breaking Health & Safety law – usually where the breach is of a serious nature and poses a significant risk to workers or the public.

An improvement notice gives you the opportunity to correct what the inspector has identified as wrong and will:

  • set out what you’re doing (or not doing) that breaks the law
  • say what needs to be done to correct the breach and why
  • give you time (at least 21 days) in which to comply

Before serving the notice, the inspector is to discuss the breaches with you and answer and resolve any queries.

You must always comply with an improvement notice as failure to do so can result in criminal prosecution.

Prohibition Notices

A prohibition notice may be issued if the inspector feels an activity poses a risk of serious personal injury.

There are two forms of prohibition notice:

  • an immediate notice – this stops the activity immediately until the specified risk is reduced
  • a deferred prohibition notice – this stops the activity within a specified time limit

Prohibition notices usually require activities to stop immediately and not restart until corrective action has been taken.

The notice will explain why the inspector thinks there’s a risk of serious personal injury and should:

  • state that the inspector is of that opinion
  • set out the matters which in the inspector’s opinion gives or may give rise to the risk
  • direct that the activity should not be carried on unless matters have been remedied

The notice should also state:

  • which law is being or is likely to be broken
  • what needs to be done to reduce or control the risk

Failure to comply is again a criminal offence, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.

Appeals against Notices

If you believe an HSE enforcement notice is unfair, you have the right to appeal against it to an employment tribunal. Appeals must be made within 21 days (information will be provided with the notice).

Appealing allows you to:

  • vary the terms of the notice
  • overturn the notice

Appealing an improvement notice will suspend the notice until the appeal is heard. There are five main grounds for appeal:

  1. inspector interpreted the law incorrectly
  2. inspector exceeded powers
  3. breach of the law is admitted but proposed solution is not reasonably practicable
  4. time allowed to comply is too short
  5. breach of the law is admitted but the breach is so insignificant that the notice should be cancelled 

When appealing a prohibition notice, the notice usually stays in force until the appeal is heard (but may be possible to apply for it to be lifted pending appeal).

Implications of HSE Enforcement Notices

Enforcement notices can hugely damage your business’s reputation and ability to tender for work:

  • issued enforcement notices are published in an online HSE register (records appear for 5 years)
  • companies may not deal with you if you’ve been issued with a notice and local authorities may not contract with you

So, whatever type of notice you receive, you must act promptly!