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Research & Briefings

The Health and Safety Executive

This page provides you information - and links to further information - about the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and, in particular, its 'enforcement functions'.

October 2002
New Report looking at the enforcement activities of the Health and Safety Executive. Published jointly by the CCA and UNISON, Click here for further information

The HSE can be described as the operational arm of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and is responsible for enforcement of health and safety law in most of Britain's most hazardous workplaces.

The HSE is a distinct organisation from the HSC.

If you want to complain about a decision or an activity of the HSE, click here

HSE Board
Role of HSE and its Relationship with the HSC and the Government
Enforcement Functions of the HSE
HSE Inspectors
HSE Inspectors and the law
HSE Inspections and Investigations
HSE Powers of Investigation
HSE's Procedures for the Investigation of ‘Major Incidents’
HSE's 'Prior Role Inquiry' Reports
New 'Enforcement Policy Statement' (Jan 2002)
New ‘Enforcement Management Model’ (August 2002)
HSE and Crown Bodies
HSE and Resources
Parliamentary Select Committee's Inquiry (1999)
Obtaining information from the HSE
Making a complaint to the HSE
HSE and Coroners’ Inquests

The HSE Board
The HSE (like the HSC) is established by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In 'constitutional' terms [section 10(5) of the 1974 Act], the Executive itself is composed of three people. One of these is the Director General who is appointed by the Commission (with the approval of the Government). The other two are appointed in the same way after consultation with the Director General. These three people are:

Timothy Walker Director General
Justin McKraken Deputy Director General (Bops)
Kate Timms Deputy Director General (Policy)

In practice however the Executive is run by a 'Board' which is composed of eleven people. The Board has monthly meetings and each meeting has the following documents that are now publicly available:
  • agendas
  • papers
  • Minutes

The HSE website allows you to access these document that relate to Board meetings since October 2000. If you would like to access them click here.

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The Role of the HSE and its Relationship with the Government and the HSC
the 1974 Act, in particular the Nuclear Installations Acts. It is also part of a statutory competent authority, for example for the assessment of toxic chemicals, jointly with the Environment Agency, as part of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) under the Notification of New Substances Regulations 1993. In these matters it acts on its own volition.

In order to carry out its responsibilities, particularly in relation to enforcement and policy proposals, the Executive may agree Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with other public bodies. These typically set out liaison arrangements or delineate areas of coverage where responsibilities overlap.

The Executive and staff of HSE are civil servants and subject to the provisions of the Civil Service Code which sets out the role and duties of civil servants and the standards of conduct and propriety expected of them. If you would like to download the full document, please click here (PDF).

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Enforcement Functions of the HSE
The principle responsibility of the HSE is "to make adequate arrangements for the enforcement of" health and safety law in relation to certain categories of premises in England, Scotland and Wales. It is responsible for the following premises:

  • factories;
  • building sites;
  • mines;
  • farms;
  • fairgrounds;
  • quarries;
  • railways;
  • chemical plants;
  • offshore and nuclear installations;
  • schools, universities etc
  • hospitals
  • Local, county and parish councils
  • Police and Fire Authorities
  • Crown bodies

Health and safety law in relation to other premises (shops, hotels, restaurants, leisure and sports centres, places of worship, some warehouses, and most offices) is enforced by local authorities.

The HSE has no responsibility for the enforcement of health and safety law on boats and ships when they are out at sea. This is the responsibility of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

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HSE Inspectors
HSE inspectors work in different divisions within the HSE.

  • Field Operations Division (FOD) - this is the biggest division within the HSE as is involved with enforcement in manufacturing, construction, railways etc
  • Hazardous Installations Division - this is responsible for enforcement in relation to chemicals and mining.
  • Nuclear Inspectorate - concerned with the nuclear industry
There are also two main different kinds of inspectors. Field inspectors are responsible for day to day inspections and investigations whilst Specialists inspectors provide specialist back up for the Field Inspectors in different disciplines like electrical engineering, radiation etc.

There are three main grades of inspectors within HSE:
Band 4 is the grade at which inspectors are recruited to the HSE. They will remain in this band whilst they are in training.
Band 3 is the main grade for HSE inspectors and they are the inspectors who are primarily concerned with the HSE' day to day inspections and investigations.
Band 2 inspectors are known as 'Principal Inspectors'. They manage the Band 3 inspectors.

Below are some figures concerned with inspector numbers. The FOD figures were correct at of August 2001. The HID, NI and offshore figures were correct as of Jan 2002.

If you are interested to know how many inspectors are involved in actual inspections and investigations, count up the inspectors in grade 3. However note that Grade 2 Nuclear Inspectors are equivalent to Grade 3 inspectors in other divisions. There fore the total number of inspectors involved in active inspection and investigation (if one generously adds in specialists inspectors) is 836.

HSE Inspectors - by Grade
    0 1 2 3 4 Total
FOD Field 5 26 124 419 145 719
  Specialist 2 7 28 48 0 85
  Railways 5 5 25 64 0 99
HID (Land) Field 1 3 28 67 17 116
  Specialists 0 4 17 51 0 72
Offshore Field 0 5 29 89 0 123
Nuclear Specialists 5 18 98 37 0 158
TOTAL   18 68 349 775 162 1372

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HSE Inspectors and the Law
The HSE employs inspectors to enforce health and safety law. This section contains a summary of the way the law works. If however you would like a more detailed explanation, please click here.

The law imposes certain duties upon:

  • employers, manufacturers, suppliers, and occupiers (which in most cases these will be 'companies' or organisations rather than individuals);
  • employees
    It also imposes certain limited duties upon directors and managers
These duties are contained in Acts of Parliament (like the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974) or Regulations (like the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999). The difference between Acts of Parliament and Regulations is explained below.

The most important of these duties are set out in section 2 - 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

It is the responsibility of HSE inspectors to ensure that the safety duties are complied with in those premises over which it has jurisdiction (i.e. factories, construction sites etc). Inspectors do this through undertaking preventative inspection and investigations into reported incidents.

If an HSE inspector discovers (through either an inspection of investigation - see below) that a company, organisation or individual is in breach of any of these duties, the inspector can use a number of formal powers. An inspector can:
  • impose an improvement notice - this requires that the organisation/individual makes specified improvements within a certain period of time;

  • impose a prohibition notice - this requires that the organisation or individual stops a particular activity because of the dangers that it poses.

  • Prosecute the company, organisation or individual.

Alternatively, an inspector need not use any of its formal powers but instead simply provide oral or written advice. The HSE has recently published a new Enforcement Management Model to assist inspectors in determining what action to take. This needs to be read alongside HSC’s new ‘Enforcement Policy Statement

It should be noted that an organisation or individual can appeal to an Employment Tribunal against either an improvement or a prohibition notice within 21 days of the notice having been issued.

In determining which of these formal or informal powers to use, HSE inspectors have to follow the HSC Enforcement Policy Statement. If you would like to find out more about this document, please click here

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HSE Inspections and Investigations
HSE inspectors identify breaches in the law through either (a) preventative inspections and (b) investigations:

Preventative inspections are in most cases unannounced visits to premises. Premises are selected for inspection through a system of hazard rating.

Investigations can take place into the following incidents

  • a death;
  • a major injury;
  • an 'over three day injury';
  • a disease;
  • a dangerous occurrence;
  • certain kinds of gas incidents;
These incidents are reported to the HSE by employers and others. To find out more about what kinds of deaths, injuries and dangerous occurrences etc need to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive, click here.

In its new Enforcement Policy Statement, the HSE sets out how inspectors should decide which incidents should be investigated. To see these paragraphs click here.

The HSE has also recently drafted internal guidance to inspectors setting out more detailed criteria that inspectors should use to decide whether or not to investigate a reported incident. These guidelines were published after criticisms contained in a report published by the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Regions. To see what the Select Committee said on investigations, click here.

The new HSE guidance is not easy to follow. In effect however it states that the following incidents should be investigated by the HSE:
  • all deaths 'arising out of or in connection with work activities' unless they involve suicides or deaths from natural causes;
  • all reports of cases of industrial disease;
  • certain specified 'major injuries'.
  • incidents that are "likely to give rise to serious public concern";
  • incidents where there is "likely to have been a serious breach of health and safety law,

To see the guidelines in full, click here

The HSE are planning to revise this criteria and are piloting a new set of criteria in the North West which will mean fewer injuries will be investigated. To read about this click here.

The HSE has also recently set out new guidelines on when inspectors should investigate work-related road traffic incidents.. This resulted from a judicial review where the HSE had refused to investigate the death of Omar Akhter who was killed when the raised forks of a fork-lift truck smashed through the window of Omar's car as he was driving home.

The guidelines: 'Work-related Road Traffic Incidents: an explanation of circumstances where HSE may have a role to play':

"At the Judicial Review, on consideration of all the available information, HSE recognised that its decision not to investigate had been incorrect and volunteered to investigate the incident retrospectively.. Because HSE volunteered to investigate the incident no formal judgment was given by the court .. However the judicial review prompted the Deputy Director General to commit to clarifying the inspector HSC/E's policy in this area .."

To see a summary of which incident the HSE might or should investigate, click here.

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HSE Powers of Investigation
Section 20 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides inspectors wide powers to inspect premises and investigate health and safety offences. These are:

  • To enter any premises at any reasonable time (or, at any time, in a situation which in the inspector's opinion is dangerous) to carry out his functions;
  • to undertake any examination or investigation as may be necessary in the circumstances
  • to direct that the premises are left undisturbed for so long as is reasonably necessary for the purpose of any examination or investigation
  • to take any measurements, photographs and recordings as is considered necessary
  • to take samples of any articles or substances in the premises;
  • to dismantle or test any article or substance which appears to the inspector to have caused or is likely to cause danger to health or safety;
  • to remove any article or substance for as long as is necessary
  • to require any person whom the inspector has reasonable cause to believe to be able to give any information relevant to the any examination or investigation to answer such question that the inspector thinks fit and to sign a declaration of the truth of the answers. It should be noted that according to Section 20(7) no answer given in any statement by virtue of the powers of this section "shall be admissible in evidence against that person or the husband or wife of that person in any proceedings."
  • to take copies of any documents which by law are required to be kept and any other books or documents which it is necessary for the inspector to see for the purposes of any examination or investigation
  • to require any person to afford the inspector such facilities and assistance with respect to any matters within that person's control

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Procedures for the Investigation of ‘Major Incidents’
In April 2001, the HSE established new quality management arrangements’ for responding to, and investigating, ‘major incidents'. A Major incident is defined as:

'a significant event which demands a response beyond the routine. Significance is determined by the severity of the incident, the degree of public concern and the nature and extent of HSE's previous involvement with the duty holder(s); though the nature of previous involvement would not alone trigger a major incident investigation.'

The HSE says that this document "is one of a series of documents which establish procedures designed to meet HSE’s Enforcement Statement/Quality Statement for Continuing Aim 2 - To secure compliance with the law in line with the principles of proportionality, consistency, transparency and targeting on a risk-related basis."

To download this document, click here (PDF)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this new policy is that the new procedures requires that an investigation into HSE’s role prior to the ‘major incident' taking place. These investigations are called ‘Prior Role Inquiries’.
The policy says that:

"The nature and extent of the Prior Role Inquiry depends upon the seriousness and complexity of the incident. In more serious or complex incidents it will be necessary to form an inquiry team. This team is composed of people from outside the home Directorate with the necessary competence to undertake the field work for the inquiry under the direction of an inquiry team leader at Band 1 level. In less complex incidents it may be appropriate for the Band 1 to undertake the inquiry alone."

To find out more about the Prior Inquiry Reports, see immediately below.

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HSE’s ‘Prior Role Inquiry’ Report
To find out about:
• What are Prior Role Inquiries
• What is involved in the investigation by the HSE
• What the report should document
• The reports themselves
Click Here

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The New Enforcement Policy Statement
After a long period of consultation, the Health and Safety Commission published a new Enforcement Policy Statement in January 2002. The Statement sets out how inspectors, both from the Health and Safety Executive and Local Authorities, should use their powers - in particular those relating to the prosecution of organisations and individuals - to enforce health and safety law.

  • To download the new EPS, click here (PDF document).
  • To see how the new statement differs from the previous statement and to see CCA's comments on the new statement click here. and look at the analysis section on the newsletter.
  • To see documents relating to the consultation process, click here

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The New ‘Enforcement Management Model’
In May 2002, the HSE launched its ‘Enforcement Management Model’ (EMM) which aims to assist inspectors in deciding the appropriate enforcement action (i.e. oral or written advice, imposition of notices or prosecution) to be taken in particular cases. It aims to ensure that inspectors make decisions that are in line with the Health and Safety Commission’s (HSC) revised Enforcement Policy Statement and to ensure that there is greater consistency in the actions taken by inspectors faced with similar sets of circumstances.

To see a summary of the EMM, click here

To download a copy of the EMM, click here

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HSE and Crown Bodies

To read about the application of health and safety law to Crown Bodies and the way HSE treats them, click here

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HSE and Resources
The HSE receives a sum of money from the Health and Safety Commission. In addition the HSE receives income through charging companies and organisations fees for certain activities.

In the year 2000/2001, the Commission gave the HSE £189 million The HSE also raised £52 million last year through charging resulting in a total budget of £241 million

Last year the HSE spent a total of £164 million on enforcement activities. £133 million of this came from the Government's 'grant in aid' and 31 million from HSE's own charging activities.

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Parliamentary Select Committee's Inquiry (1999)

In 1999, the Environment, Transport, and Regional Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into the work of the Health and Safety Executive. The CCA gave written evidence and was one of only five non-Governmental organisations to give oral evidence.

To access documents relating to this enquiry, click here

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Information and the HSE
The HSE's Board has published a statement on openness. You can see this by clicking here.

If you would like to see what information the HSE is willing to provide people and how best to obtain it, click here

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Complaining about the HSE
If you have a complaint about any decision or conduct of the HSE, you should either:

  • write to Timothy Walker, the Director General of the HSE at: HSE, Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 3HS

  • e-mail Timothy Walker

Click Here for for our dedicated page on complaints about the HSE

The CCA may be able to assist you in making your complaint.

Contact us

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HSE and Coroners’ Inquests
The HSE has an important role to play in inquests concerning work-related deaths.

Click here to read about inquests into work-related deaths
Click here to download HSE’s response to the Coroner Review Team

Timothy Walker
Timothy Walker has been Director General since 1 October 2000. Previously an academic scientist, Timothy Walker has taught physics and chemistry at various universities. We worked on trade with the Middle East, telecommunications liberalisation and grants to industry at the Department of Trade and Industry and was Principal Private Secretary to successive Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry. He also held responsibility for civil nuclear matters. Other posts have been UK Governor of IAEA, Chairman of the EBRD Nuclear Safety Account, Home Office Director General for immigration and nationality and Deputy Chairman of HM Customs and Excise.

Link to HSC Press release on appointment


Justin McCracken
Justin Mcraken has been appointed as the new Deputy Director General (Operations) and will take up this post from April 2001. A Physics graduate, he joined the ICI in 1976 as a research scientist and moved from there into process development and plant management. His subsequent posts in ICI took him into marketing and business management in the UK and overseas, culminating in worldwide responsibility for ICI's catalyst business.

In 1998 he joined the Environment Agency as NW Regional Director. There he was responsible for all the activities of the Agency in the North West, including regulation of process, water and waste industries, river habitats and fisheries improvement, flood defences and promotion of sustainable development. He succeed David Eves who retired in January 2001

He has responsibility for all of HSE's field inspectors and HSE's operational activities in mines, offshore, rail, construction, agriculture, health services, chemicals and nuclear safety.


HSE Board

Timothy Walker Director General
Justin McCracken Deputy Director General (Operations)
Kate Timms Deputy Director General (Policy)
Dr Adrian Ellis Field Operations Directorate
Laurence Williams Director and Chief Inspector of the Nuclear Safety Inspectorate
Dr Paul Davies Director and Chief Scientist, Hazardous Installations Directorate
Richard Hillier Director, Resources and Planning Directorate
Clive Norris Director, Railway Directorate
Nick Starling Director, Safety Policy Directorate
Sandra Caldwell Director, Health directorate
Dr Peter Graham Director, Strategy and Analytical Support Directorate.


"Framework of Accountabilities"

To Download the full document, click here

Annex 1-4 This contains
  1. Responsibilities of Secretaries of State in Relation to work of HSC/E
  2. Agency Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding
  3. Advisory Committees to the Health and Safety Commission.
  4. Letter from HSC to HSE giving formal direction Under Section 11(4) of 1974 Act
Annex 5: Financial Memorandum

Regulations and Acts
An Act of Parliament (otherwise known as a statute) is primary legislation. That is to say it only becomes law after being voted through both Houses of Parliament and when it obtains the consent of the queen.

A regulation (otherwise known as a statutory instrument) is known as secondary legislation. It does not need to get the assent of parliament. An Act of Parliament will give a minister the power to make a regulation in relation to a particular area. A regulation can impose the same sort of obligations as an Act of Parliament.

In relation to health and safety, Section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations.

Improvement Notices:
Section 21 of the 1974 Act states that:

"if an inspector is of the opinion that a person:
(a) is contravening one or more of the relevant statutory provisions; or
(b) has contravened one or more of those provisions in circumstances that make it likely that the contravention will continue to be repeated,
he may serve on him a notice (in this Part referred to as 'an improvement notice') stating that he is of that opinion, specifying the provision or provisions as to which he is of that opinion, giving particulars of the reasons why he is of that opinion, and requiring that person to remedy the contravention or, as the case may be, the matters occasioning it within such period (ending not earlier than the period within which an appeal against the notice can be brought under section 24) as may be specified in the notice."

Prohibition notices
Section 22 of the 1974 Act allows an inspector to impose a prohibition notice upon a person in control of any activity when the inspector is of the opinion that the activity involves, or is likely to involve, a "risk of serious personal injury". The Prohibition notice should state that:
  • the inspector is of the said opinion
  • specify the reason why the inspector is of that opinion
  • where the inspector is of the opinion that there has been a contravention of any statutory provision, specify the provision(s) and reasons for the opinion
  • direct that "the activities to which the notice relates shall not be carried on by or under the control of the person on whom the notice is served" unless the matters specified in the notice any contraventions have been remedied.
Appeal against an Improvement or prohibition notice

There are four main grounds for appeal
  • an inspector wrongly interpreted the law
  • the inspector exceeded his powers
  • though there is a breach of the law, the proposed solution is not practicable, or reasonably practicable'.
  • although there is a breach of the law it is so insignificant that the notice should be canceled

Excerpt from New Enforcement Policy Statement on Investigations

30. As with prosecution, HSC expects enforcing authorities to use discretion whether incidents, cases of ill health, or complaints should be investigated. Indicative targets related to levels of investigation by HSE are normally specified in HSC's Strategic Plan, which is approved by the Government. HSC's priorities are also reflected in the HELA Strategy. HSC's priorities are also reflected in the HELA strategy which is used by local Authorities to target their activities and resources via there departmental Service Plans.

31. Investigations are undertaken in order to determine:
  • causes:
  • whether action has been taken or needs to be taken to prevent a recurrence and to secure compliance with the law;
  • lessons to be learnt and to influence the law and guidance;
  • what response is appropriate to a breach of law.

    To maintain a proportionate response, most resources available for investigation or incidents will be devoted to the more serious circumstances. HSC's Strategic Plan recognises that it is neither possible nor necessary for the purposes of the Act to investigate all issues of non-compliance with the law which are uncovered in the course of preventative inspection, or in the investigation of reported events.
32. The Enforcing authorities should carry out a site investigation of a reportable work-related death, unless it is an instance of adult trespass or apparent suicides on the railway or there are other specific reasons for not doing so, in which case those reasons should be recorded.

33. In selecting which complains or reports of injury or occupational ill health to investigate should take account of the following factors:
  • the severity and scale of potential or actual harm
  • the seriousness of any potential breach of law;
  • knowledge of the duty holder's past health and safety performance;
  • the enforcement priorities;
  • the practicalities of achieving results;
  • the wider relevance of the event including serious public concern

To see more information on HSC's Enforcement Policy Statement, click here


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Page last updated on August 8, 2003