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What to expect from a HSE investigation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was established to prevent death, injury, and ill health in UK workplaces, by sanctioning employers who place their workers, customers or visitors at risk.

But how does the HSE enforce UK health and safety law, and what should you expect from a health and safety investigation or prosecution? Call our experienced health and safety lawyers today to arrange a free, no obligation consultation, or read on to find out more.

HSE investigations and enforcement procedures

The HSE follows a number of procedures when enforcing workplace safety law, including:

  • Inspection

  • Investigation

  • Complaints

  • Enforcement

  • Notice

  • Prosecution

  • Penalties

Health and safety investigations by the HSE

An investigation into your workplace will typically occur following an incident or a complaint. Where an injury has occurred to an employee or a visitor to your premises there are reporting obligations which must be followed. The company’s health and safety representatives will be aware of these. Such report is likely to trigger an investigation by an Inspector experienced in the area of work the company operates in. If there has been a fatality then there will be a joint investigation with the police into the circumstances leading up to the death.

The aim of the investigation is to:

  • Gather information and establish the facts of the case

  • Identify the causes of the incident and the lessons to be learned

  • Prevent a recurrence

  • Uncover potential breaches of health and safety legislation

  • Take appropriate enforcement action, where there has been a breach

Enforcement actions

Following the investigation, a decision will be made on what enforcement action is required, if any.

Enforcement decisions include:

  • Servicing notices on duty holders

  • Withdrawing approvals

  • Altering licenses, conditions or exemptions

  • Issuing a caution

  • Prosecution


Before the HSE takes punitive action against a company, an inspector can serve one of three forms of notice:

  • Prohibition notice - the duty holder is told to cease an activity immediately

  • Improvement notice - the duty holder is given specific remedial action to carry out and a deadline for completing the action

  • Crown notice - the duty holder is a Crown organisation (a government department etc) and the notice serves the same purpose as either of the above


Depending on the circumstances, a decision could be made to prosecute the company and or specific employees. may follow. It is frequently the case that employees need to be separately represented as there may well be a conflict between the stance taken by the company and the interests of the employee.


If the HSE prosecution is successful, the court will decide on a penalty to impose. Penalties for breaches of health and safety offences have risen sharply over recent years. Significant fines are now imposed on companies, the court will not only take into account the mitigation put forward by the company but also details of it’s turnover and profit over the last three years or so in order that the financial penalty imposed has an impact on the company’s financial performance so that shareholders are aware of management failures. A publicity order will also be made. Individual senior managers and directors could also face prosecution for their part in the company’s failings. New health and safety sentencing guidelines are about to be introduced.

In addition to fines the offender will be ordered to pay all or most of the prosecution costs of investigation and bringing the case to court.

Gone are the days when a company could escape lightly following a prosecution for breaches which can or do lead to staff and visitors to their premises being injured. An immediate prohibition order can result in the company being unable to trade and or fulfil it’s contractual obligations which can lead to the loss of work and reputation. Dependent on the companies financial circumstances and the seriousness of the offending the company may be put out of business by fines, costs orders and prohibitions on unsafe working practices.

If you are under investigation from the HSE or face a prosecution, our expert health and safety solicitors are ready and waiting to help you. Call us today for more information on how Moore Blatch health and safety solicitors could help you avoid a penalty which could place the future of your business at risk.

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