As the UK contends with another lockdown due to COVID-19, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has announced that it is carrying out spot inspections of businesses to ensure they are operating safely. Here, we take a look at what these inspections might consist of and how your business should respond, if visited.
Who might call?
Due to current HSE caseload and additional duties arising from the pandemic lockdown measures, you may not be contacted by an HSE Inspector. HSE is currently working with Local Authorities (usually their Environmental Health Officers or 'EHOs') and approved partners to deliver the spot check calls and visits. Such an 'officer' (rather than Inspectors) will carry with them identification and a letter of authorisation from HSE. If you are unsure as to the identity or legitimacy of the person contacting/attending your place of business, then ask to see their ID and, if not an HSE Inspector, their letter of authorisation.
What will they want to know/see?
The Inspector/officer will ask to speak to an appropriate person in your business who can detail the systems in place to ensure the workplace is COVID-secure. If you are unsure who that person might be, then it should be someone at senior management level, or above, who has a working knowledge of the steps and procedures the business is using to address the risks of COVID and, importantly, who is able to access all associated paperwork which may be requested.
You will most likely be asked to produce your written COVID-specific risk assessment along with any associated paperwork/records of training/disseminating the information to your workforce. If you are visited in person, then the Inspector/Officer may ask to view the workplace. There they will be looking for evidence of your risk assessment, procedures being used and whether these are being followed correctly such as, good cleanliness and hygiene facilities e.g. use of hand sanitiser, social distancing and, where that is not possible, other measures such as screens to reduce transmission risks.
They may also ask to speak to staff members and/or their representatives. "Representatives" relates to union representatives (if present in your organisation) or any appointed safety reps for the workforce in non-unionised businesses.
HSE has stated that the aim of the spot checks is, if required, to advise and assist businesses to be COVID compliant. However, if your business is falling short, they will offer you specific advice on how to comply with the legislation/guidance. Depending on the circumstances, they can and may take enforcement action including stopping certain operations (or the whole workplace) until they are made safe and even prosecution, if necessary.
Should you comply with the visit and their requests?
Whilst it can be daunting to have an Inspector/Officer place a call to/attend your premises unannounced, it is important to remember that they have the power to do so and a failure to comply can result in action being taken against the business. Accordingly, it is important to comply with their requests. If you have any questions about the HSE spot checks or about your existing COVID-19 measures then please do not hesitate to contact our team on the details below.