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Health and safety law enforcement

Our responsibilities

The task of ensuring that health and safety at work law is enforced is shared in North Devon between North Devon Council (NDC)and the Health and Safety Executive external website.

NDC covers mainly commercial activities including
  • shops
  • warehouses
  • offices
  • hotels and catering
  • sports
  • leisure
  • consumer services (launderettes, hairdressers, undertakers, shoe repair, tyre and exhaust fitters)
  • residential care homes
  • churches
Officers from NDC’s Environmental Health service looks after these businesses.

HSE covers mainly industrial activities such as
  • factories
  • building sites
  • mines and quarries
  • agriculture
  • railways
  • chemical plant
  • offshore and nuclear installations

They also cover fairgrounds.

NDC’s Environmental Health officers seek to prevent workplace occupational accidents and ill-health by:
  • inspecting workplaces to make sure that risks are properly managed
  • investigating accidents, occupational ill-health and dangerous occurrences
  • investigating complaints about working conditions or work practices
  • making recommendations of good practice
  • helping people meet their legal responsibilities
  • acting as a source of advice on any aspect of health and safety
  • promoting awareness/knowledge of safety issues through campaigns, newsletters, seminars or training courses
  • on occasions ensuring that certain actions are taken by way of formal notices
  • taking legal proceedings where it is the public interest to do so

An inspector’s visit

What happens during a visit depends on why the visit is being made and the type of workplace being visited.

General inspections are influenced by the extent of risk to both employees and the public. As a rule, places with more serious risks, or risks that have been poorly controlled in the past, will be visited more often.

All notifications of accidents, ill health and dangerous occurrences are assessed to see if a visit is needed. Decision factors will include the severity of the injury, potential for recurrence, extent of possible breaches of legislation, type of accident, the past record of the business and any remedial action taken.

Unannounced inspections are usually made. Where necessary the Inspector will make by appointment. They will probably want to talk to managers, supervisors, employees, health and safety representatives and other interested persons. In addition to looking around your premises, Inspectors will examine safety-related paperwork such as:
  • health and safety policy statement (if applicable)
  • written risk assessments (if applicable)
  • plant maintenance and inspection records
  • training records
  • accident and health records

Inspectors are under a legal obligation to tell employees about issues affecting their health, safety or welfare at their workplace. This may be done verbally at the time of visit or by sending a copy of any correspondence to employees.

At the end of the visit the inspector will outline what further action, if any, is going to be taken. In any correspondence we will seek to provide you with useful and relevant advice on what you need to do.

If an inspector finds something unsafe or against the law

Inspectors are trained to seek consistency in their actions and follow set procedures so that employers in similar circumstances should be treated in a similar way. At a national level consistency is promoted through the Health and Safety Executive Local Authority Unit external website. National guidance is issued to inspectors. The unit produces an annual report on local authority enforcement activity.

The main aim of the inspector is to help and advise but formal enforcement action may need to be taken. The inspector will consider a number of factors in deciding what action to take, including:
  • the degree of risk
  • the seriousness of the legal contravention
  • past record and general attitude to health and safety
  • if there has been a blatant disregard for the law
  • if there is sufficient evidence
Formal enforcement powers include the issue of improvement or prohibition notices.

Improvement notices tell you what the problem is and require things to put right within a certain time. The inspector would usually discuss the time limit with you and explain how to get it extended if there is good reason.

Prohibition notices tell you what the problem is and require you to stop doing something until things are put right. These are only issued if it is considered that there is a risk of serious injury.

Notices will contain, or have attached, an explanation of what you must do to comply. You are often allowed to use a different but equally effective alternative. When notices are issued, a copy will be provided for any employees. The law requires some notices to be put in a register, which is open to public inspection. Failure to comply with a notice is a serious offence and is likely to lead to prosecution. If you appeal against an improvement notice it is suspended until the appeal is heard. A prohibition notice usually remains in force until the appeal is heard. An appeal form will be enclosed with either type of notice.

The inspector can also decide to prosecute any company and/or individual breaking the law.

Prosecution is more likely where there:
  • is a blatant disregard for the law (particularly for economic reasons)
  • is reckless disregard for the health and safety of work people and others
  • have been repeated breaches of legislation and management is neither willing nor structured to deal adequately with these
  • has been a serious accident or a case of ill-health arising from a substantial legal contravention

or where:
  • a particular type of offence is prevalent in an activity or area
  • a particular contravention has caused justifiable, serious public concern

The laws that inspectors enforce take account of the costs of what you are required to do. This means that the action required must be in proportion to the risks concerned.

For further information see the HSE leaflet ‘What to do when an inspector calls' external website

Inspector’s powers

The law gives inspectors a wide range of powers, including the power to:
  • enter premises at any reasonable time
  • carry out examinations and investigations
  • take measurements, photographs and samples
  • take possession of an article (telling you why and giving you a receipt)
  • have articles dismantled and tested
  • require information and take statements
  • inspect and copy documents

Our commitments to you

We will:
  • be courteous
  • be fair and consistent
  • tell you our name, show you a 'certificate of appointment' or ID card when we visit
  • tell you our name when speaking on the phone
  • give help and advice whenever required

We also aim to respond to complaints or requests for advice within five working days. any will be answered immediately.

If we are going to write following a visit we will tell you how long it will take. Normally this will be within 10 working days of a routine visit.

We seek to continually improve our performance

Further information

Health and Safety Executive explanatory leaflets external website

Contact information

To contact the Customer Service Centre:

Telephone: 01271 388870
For Typetalk: precede with 18001
Text: 07624 804042
Fax: 01271 388451
Web form: report an incident
Web form: request a service

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Face to face:

Our office hours are Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
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