HSE Enforcement – When the Inspectors Come Knocking!


The enforcement of health and safety depends upon the main activity undertaken at a place of work. The Health and Safety Executive typically enforces at higher risk workplaces such as construction sites and factories. Office of Rail and Road (ORR) enforces on the railways.

Local Authorities (usually Environmental Health Officers) enforce at lower risk premises such as retailers, offices etc.


All authorised inspectors have the same powers, regardless of the area of enforcement. Inspectors can:

Inspectors have a range of enforcement options and tools available including:

  • Simple Caution;
  • Improvement Notice;
  • Prohibition Notice;
  • Prosecution;
  • Fees for Intervention (FFI).

The best option(s) will be chosen in each case. There is no hierarchical escalation route from informal advice to prosecution.

Simple Caution

Based on level of risk and level of management cooperation an inspector may deal with a situation informally by verbal advice or an explanatory letter. Provided agreed actions are completed on time no formal action will be taken.

Improvement Notice

An improvement notice may be served whenever health and safety legislation is being contravened. An improvement notice will specify the breach of legislation and may specify a means of complying. It has to allow a reasonable time (minimum 21 days) to complete any specified works.

Any appeal against an improvement notice must be made to the Employment Tribunal with 21 days of the date of service. The requirements of the notice would be suspended until the appeal was heard.

The Employment tribunal may uphold, cancel or vary the improvement notice as a consequence of the appeal

Prohibition Notice

A prohibition notice maybe issued when the inspector considers that there is a risk of serious personal injury. The notice prohibits the carrying on of the work activity giving rise to the risk of injury.

If the risk of injury is imminent, the notice must take immediate effect and stop the work activity at once. If not, the prohibition notice is deferred, specifying the time by which the work activity must cease.

Any appeal against a prohibition notice must be made to the Employment Tribunal with 21 days of the date of service. The notice would stay in effect until the appeal was heard.


Any breach of legislation may give rise to a prosecution in the criminal courts.

Fee’s for Intervention

Although not technically enforcement, the HSE are able to recover their costs directly from the organisation, which can add up to a significant cost.