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Local authority inspection priorities and your business

Every year (HSE) publishes the Local Authority Circular Setting Local Authority Priorities and Targeting Interventions (67-2 Revision 8).

This ensures that there is a degree of cooperation and coordination between the HSE and local authorities in relation to their separate jurisdictions for the enforcement of the health and safety legislation.

The document contains guidance for local authority enforcement officers to help them target their interventions and prioritise their enforcement plans. This year’s document covers the period from April 2019 to April 2020.

The identification of sectors and areas of risk for focus does not arise as a result of accident – careful consideration is given by those drafting and agreeing the content of the document, based on evidence, to where undoubtedly limited resources should be directed to ensure the greatest perceived benefit, in terms of improvement and reduction of risk, to society as a whole.

Useful insight for businesses

While the document is aimed at the regulators themselves, it can provide a very useful insight for businesses into the health and safety risk areas that enforcement officers are likely to target as part of their inspections throughout its period of currency and may therefore provide a valuable aid to businesses in prioritising their own efforts as regards health and safety.

In particular, the sections relating to and Activities/Sectors Suitable for Proactive Inspection (summarised below)are important for directors and senior managers of businesses that are regulated by a local authority to understand and be aware of.

National Planning Priorities

The list of national priorities is collated from the HSE’s sector strategies and the most recent intelligence from the HSE’s sector teams. This part of the document contains an overview of the risk areas that local authority health and safety regulators should consider as a priority when planning their interventions.

The first priority referred to relates to construction work.

While construction sites are usually inspected by the HSE, local authority regulators are reminded that they also have a part to play in addressing the health and safety risks posed by construction work, particularly when they visit commercial premises such as shops, warehouses and offices where construction work may be taking place. The circular draws the enforcement officer’s attention to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and the following specific risk areas that may also be relevant:

  1. Duty to manage asbestos
  2. Falls from height – work on/adjacent to fragile roofs/materials
  3. Health risks – respirable silica dust

Besides construction, potential risk areas relating to the amusement and hospitality industries have also been identified as a priority. These include preventing ill health arising from animal contact at visitor attractions and risks arising from inflatable amusement devices, beverage gases in the hospitality industry and gas safety in commercial catering premises.

As well as this, another risk area identified as a priority is the provision of welfare for delivery drivers. This is a particularly important area for businesses that operate warehouses because, where practicable and appropriate, toilet and rest facilities should be made available to visiting workers who are making deliveries.

Preventing injury to the public from accessing large commercial waste and recycling bins is also listed as a priority risk area. This is on the basis that in recent years, several people seeking shelter in commercial bins (typically with a capacity of over 660 litres) have been injured or killed when the bins were emptied. Businesses have a duty to manage the risks of unsecured access to bins and further guidance on this point can be found in the Waste Industry Safety & Health (“WISH”) guidance.

More generally, the final national priority is described as ‘promoting worker involvement in safety management systems’. This will be important for businesses across all industries because organisations will be expected to demonstrate to local authority regulators that they consult and engage with their employees on health and safety matters regularly and in an effective way (e.g. by having health and safety representatives).

Activities/Sectors Suitable for Proactive Inspection

Proactive inspections are recognised as the most resource-intensive form of intervention and local authorities are advised to reserve these inspections for the highest risk premises/activities. Proactive inspections can be either unannounced or by appointment, but the consent of the business is not required and inspectors are supported by powers of entry.

A number of health and safety hazards, primarily linked to certain industry sectors, are outlined in the circular as being suitable for proactive inspection. For example, businesses involving high volume warehousing and distribution activities are linked to a number of hazards including fatalities/injuries resulting from being struck by vehicles, falling from height, manual handling and unstable loads. Lack of effective management in relation to any of these hazards is deemed to be a high-risk activity and therefore suitable for proactive inspection.

The document also identifies industrial retail and wholesale premises as being linked to a number of high-risk hazards suitable for proactive inspection including fatalities/injuries resulting from falls from height or amputation and crushing injuries. Industrial diseases and unstable loads are also identified as hazards linked to these sectors.

Other hazards identified as being suitable for proactive inspection include risks of infection from Legionella and E. Coli, with premises incorporating cooling towers/evaporative condensers and animal visitor attractions being respectively most at risk.

Other high-risk activities highlighted that local authorities may wish to proactively inspect include explosion caused by leaking LPG (e.g. buildings on caravan parks), occupational lung disease (e.g. bakeries), injuries/fatalities linked to crowd managementcarbon monoxide poisoning (e.g. commercial catering premises using solid fuel cooking equipment) and violence at work (e.g. businesses with lone workers/ cash handling).

The decision about whether a proactive inspection is appropriate is at the discretion of the local authority enforcement officers who will make the decision with regard to their local intelligence and the list of suitable activities/sectors outlined above.

Conclusion

Though the guidance provides enforcement officers with a range of intervention options, the focus remains on proportionate responses to make best use of resources. Aiming to encourage the building of strategic relationships with businesses, encouraging good corporate governance, encouraging those at the top and further down the supply chain to raise standards are all provided as appropriate intervention options to improve health and safety.

There is undoubted wisdom and experience at play in expressing this sentiment as regards a balanced and proportionate approach to enforcement and improvement of standards. Whether, in fact, businesses (particularly large businesses) see this sentiment being turned into actual practice on the ground is more of a debateable point. We suspect that performance, from local authority to local authority, and from individual to individual, is variable.

But by at least considering and trying to understand the local authority enforcement priorities and the areas suitable for proactive inspection, businesses can take some steps to minimise the risk of enforcement action being taken against them through the review, reinforcement and implementation of good health and safety procedures and management in these areas.

If you would like further information on this topic a full version of the latest circular can be found here.

Disclaimer

This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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