The HSE and the Law

Cutting with a Petrol Saw – HSE and Fee for Intervention

HSE former Chief Inspector of Construction, Heather Bryant, said:

"The construction sector has made good progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured by its activities. We need to tackle where workers are unnecessarily being exposed to serious health risks, such as silica dust, which can have fatal or debilitating consequences.

This initiative (unannounced visits) provides a chance to engage with these firms to help them understand what they need to do, so they can put in place the practical measures needed to keep people safe. However, let me be clear – poor risk management and a lack of awareness of responsibilities is unacceptable. Companies who deliberately cut corners can expect to feel the full weight of the law."

The reason behind the Health and Safety at Work Act is to ensure where ever possible the Health, Safety and Welfare of every worker in employment. It is the responsibility of every employer and every employee to apply the law and ensure that as best they can, they operate within the law.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are the organisation that investigate, consider and enforce the law as it applies to each and any situation. Until October 2012 that enforcement was through the Courts and for any case that could take a varying amount of time.

In October 2012, things changed as the HSE introduced a system of intervention whereby Fees are charged on the spot and levied on the employer or employee responsible for breaking the law. The scheme is called ‘Fee for Intervention (or FFI).

The HSE will respond to situations where a problem is occurring and in attending unannounced, will observe, advise, and take action where a breach of the law is taking place. Under their own guidelines the fee is based on the amount of time that the inspector has had to spend identifying the breach, helping you to put it right, investigating and taking enforcement action.

Amongst their ‘priorities for proactive work’ they target ‘small sites’ and one of their priority areas of enforcement is in ‘dust control’. In short, if you are cutting dry without suppression then you are one of their priority targets.

From their own reports, between October 2012 and October 2014 the HSE levied just over 10,000 invoices into the construction and associated industries for FFI generating a revenue in excess of £3.85m. That is an average fee of £385.00 per intervention.

In September 2014 the results of a report commissioned by the HSE on FFI was released. The conclusions, published by HSE, along with associated research papers, stated that “it [FFI] has proven effective in achieving the overarching policy aim of shifting the cost of health and safety regulation from the public purse to those businesses that break health and safety laws.” So that means that for the HSE the policy of FFI will certainly be applied going forward.

The options are simple, the risks taken in dry cutting materials without using appropriate dust suppression and personal protective equipment are huge and potentially life changing or fatal. More than that if anyone were to consider that was a risk worth taking for the sake of convenience or to get the job done, then consider that the cost in being found to be breaking the law will be instant and substantial and would certainly out-weigh the cost of buying the equipment you would need to protect you and any employee.

More from the former HSE Chief Inspector of Construction;

(Heather Bryant was Chief Inspector of Construction until September 2014)

"The HSE will take a firmer line in inspection and enforcement. Why give someone a facemask when you could control the dust by wet cutting? The controls are out there we expect them to be used now, not just talked about.”

“There’s no doubt there are differences across the sector,” she says. “Sadly, if you combine small firms and refurbishment they account for 70% of the fatalities and the vast majority of our concerns over poor standards. We put 70% of our resources into reaching smaller firms, particularly those with under 15 people.”