HSE Update – Yorkshire & North East Region

Wednesday 21st February 2018

During the last six months of 2017, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) issued more than 640 Improvement or Prohibition Notices in the Yorkshire and North East Region alone. The HSE also secured 41 convictions for breaches of an enforcement notice in 2017. There were a range of sentences from suspended custodial sentences to several million-pound fines.

If the HSE serves either an improvement or prohibition notice under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 what must you, and can you, do?

Improvement Notices

The HSE can issue an improvement notice if they think that your business is breaching or has breached one or more of the health and safety laws and that the breach will continue or be repeated.

The notice should specify what laws are being breached and why the HSE thinks that you’re breaching them. The notice should also state what you should do to put it right and how long you have to do so.

Usually, the HSE Inspector will talk to you about the reasons for the notice being issued and the proposed remedy. If you fail to comply with a valid notice you can be prosecuted.

You can challenge the notice by a claim to the employment tribunal within 21 days of being served with the notice.  This time limit can be strict so it is important that you take legal advice as soon as you can.  The improvement notice is suspended until an appeal is either determined or withdrawn. A tribunal can cancel a notice, rephrase its terms or vary the time limit for complying.

It’s important to check carefully what the notice is requiring you to do. A notice can, for example, require a manufacturer to install a guard around a dangerous  part of a machine within a set period of time. However, the notice cannot require you to maintain that guard in or keep it in good repair, as this is an open ended requirement. But, contrast this with a notice which can require you to instigate a suitable system to ensure that the guard is maintained. The devil is in the detail!

Prohibition Notice

A prohibition notice will be issued where the HSE thinks that an activity you are carrying out involves (or will involve) a risk of serious personal injury.

Like an improvement notice, it must clearly state the matters giving rise to the risk and reasons for the notice. The notice, of course, specifies what activity is prohibited and when the prohibition is to come into effect. Again, falling to comply may result in you being prosecuted.

A prohibition notice can have immediate effect and cause the work activity in question to stop. Depending on the scope of the notice, this can have serious ramifications for your business if the notice leads to a closure of a production line or a building site until you have complied with the terms.

You can also appeal a notice within 21 days of it being served, but this will not automatically suspend the notice. You will have to seek a direction from the Tribunal to suspend the notice pending your appeal being heard.

If you’ve been served with a notice or are being investigated by the Health & Safety Executive, contact Andrew Logan for advice.