There are numerous bodies tasked with enforcing health and safety legislation in the UK. The HSE concerns itself with factories, agriculture, mines and quarries, docks and railways, whereas Local Authorities oversee, amongst others, shops, offices, schools and colleges, and hospitals. A Local Authority Inspector can generally only exercise his powers within the geographical limit of the Local Authority that employs him. HSE inspectors do not have the same geographical constraints.

Each Enforcing Authority appoints suitably qualified individuals to be Health and Safety Inspectors. Each appointment must be in writing and must specify the powers that the Inspector can exercise. You have the right to ask the Inspector to produce evidence of his appointment.

The Health and Safety Inspector has numerous statutory powers, including to:

• enter premises;
• examine and investigate;
• ensure things are left undisturbed (i.e. following an accident);
• take measurements, photographs and records;
• take possession of and detain dangerous articles or substances;
• require answers; and
• issue Improvement and Prohibition Notices.

It is the case that those organisations that have sound and compliant health and safety practices are likely to be much better positioned to deal with the Inspector in the exercise of his powers. Nevertheless, as the potential for fallout from the exercise of the Inspector’s powers can be huge, whether in terms of reputation, or finances, in resources or time, even these organisations should have a good working knowledge of the powers at the disposal of an Inspector. This is particularly important if the visit has been prompted by an accident.