The Health & Safety Inspector Calls

Peninsula Team

June 04 2010

Your receptionist calls you with the message, “There’s a health and safety inspector here who wants to see you”. How do you respond? With panic, breaking out into a sweat, issuing last minute instructions or are you less concerned because you know that you have a good management system and have taken reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risks faced by your workforce. If you are a Peninsula client who has adopted and routinely utilises our Health and Safety management system it should be the latter. As you go to meet the inspector you wonder what to expect - what will they want to do, what will they want to ask you about, what will they want to see? Risk assessment is at the heart of successful health and safety management; it helps employers focus on the risks in the workplace that really matter – the ones with the potential to cause harm. If the visit is a routine inspection the inspector’s key objective will be to check that you have assessed the risks within your business, that you have identified all the hazards and risks and that you are controlling them as required by the legislation. How they go about that task is likely to vary between inspectors and depending on the business sector in which you trade. Some inspectors will ask you what hazards you have identified and what you consider to be the most significant risk. They will then ask how you have controlled those risks. Some will ask to see the risk assessments that support your answers; others may not. If your answers give them the confidence that you have been thorough in this first step some inspectors will want to see how this translates into practice and begin with a tour of the workplace; remember, their main objective is to see that you are controlling the risks through effective management. They will only be interested in the paper work if they identify areas that need improvement. At some visits inspectors may choose only to look at a limited aspect of your operation. If they think that a particular aspect is particularly hazardous, transport activities or manual handling for example, they may come intending to look at nothing else but that. This is on the basis that if you can successfully manage the risks from the most significant hazards you should also be able to manage the lower risk activities. If they find that you don’t, the visit will most certainly extend to all aspects of your operation. At the end of the visit inspectors will usually ask to see reports of the statutory inspections and examinations of plant and equipment used in connection with the business. They will also want to see examples of H&S training and other records. For the most part health and safety inspectors are not ‘jobsworths’; they are dedicated, well educated individuals with a good knowledge of health and safety law and practice. They are well versed in safe systems of work and are, usually, good at hazard-spotting. They do not take their legal powers lightly and, generally, take a pragmatic approach to their work. If they do get a bit prickly over something they see, it is probably because they have investigated an avoidable fatal or major injury caused in similar circumstances to those found at this visit, or it could be that a well publicised hazard is apparently being ignored. Employers who actively manage health, safety and welfare in their workplace and who have a sound Safety Management System should have no reason to be nervous on receiving a visit from a health and safety inspector. They should use the visit as an opportunity to confirm that their systems are effective and, over a cup of tea or coffee, seize the opportunity to learn of recent or potential changes in the law and any local training initiatives or priorities that the authorities might be promoting. If you would like to talk about a health and safety management system for your business, call the Advice Service on 0844 892 2785 and one of our trained experts will help create a tailor made management system for your business.

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