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Health and Safety

Enforcement of Health and Safety

On finding a breach of health and safety law, the inspector will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach, and will be based on the principles set out in the Health and Safety Commission's (HSC) Enforcement Policy Statement. The inspector should provide employees or their representatives with information about any action taken, or which is necessary for the purpose of keeping them informed about matters affecting their health, safety and welfare.

Inspectors may take enforcement action in several ways to deal with a breach of the law. In most cases these are:


Where the breach of the law is relatively minor, the inspector may tell the duty holder, for example the employer or contractor, what to do to comply with the law, and explain why. The inspector will, if asked, write to confirm any advice, and to distinguish legal requirements from best practice advice.

Improvement Notice

Where the breach of the law is more serious, the inspector may issue an improvement notice to tell the duty holder to do something to comply with the law. The inspector will discuss the improvement notice and, if possible, resolve points of difference before serving it. The notice will say what needs to be done, why, and by when. The time period within which to take the remedial action will be at least 21 days, to allow the duty holder time to appeal to an Industrial Tribunal if they so wish. The inspector can take further legal action if the notice is not complied with within the specified time period.

Prohibition Notice

Where an activity involves, or will involve, a risk of serious personal injury, the inspector may serve a prohibition notice prohibiting the activity immediately or after a specified time period, and not allowing it to be resumed until remedial action has been taken. The notice will explain why the action is necessary. The duty holder will be told in writing about the right of appeal to an Industrial Tribunal.


In some cases the inspector may consider that it is also necessary to initiate a prosecution. Decisions on whether to prosecute are informed by the principles in HSC's Enforcement Policy Statement. Health and safety law gives the courts considerable scope for punishing offenders and deterring others. For example, a failure to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice, carries a fine of up to £20,000, or six months' imprisonment, or both. Unlimited fines and in some cases imprisonment may be imposed by higher courts.


A duty holder will be told in writing about the right of appeal to an Industrial Tribunal when an improvement or prohibition notice is served. The appeal mechanism is also explained on the reverse of the notice. The duty holder will be told:

  • how to appeal, and given a form with which to appeal;
  • where and within what period an appeal may be brought; and
  • that the remedial action required by an improvement notice is suspended while an appeal is pending.

Last updated: 06/11/2009