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Health and Safety Investigation in the UK - what to expect

You’ve had a serious incident or worse, a fatality on your farm and the HSE inspector arrives to investigate. If there has been a fatality, the police will be involved also. This will seem quite daunting, and it is important you know what you need to do.

HSE in the UK don’t investigate everything that’s reported to them, however if someone has died or sustained a serious injury they will be at your gate soon enough.

What purpose does a health and safety inspection serve?

The purpose of any investigation is to determine how something happened. This information is then used for a range of purposes, including sharing lessons, identifying what actions need to be take to prevent any recurrence, and where appropriate, to gather evidence to bring a prosecution.

If there has been an incident, they will want to see the site. The inspector will take photographs – lots of photographs. It’s possible they may take video footage as well. They may sketch out a bit of a floor plan showing where things are placed.

When it comes to the scene of the accident, you must not alter until an inspector says you can. Of course, you must make the site safe or get a person out for medical treatment, but you can’t fix anything else. Remember that the accident site is treated as a crime scene. If you’ve watched any TV involving police investigations, you can expect similar things for a workplace accident.

What will the inspectors require of you.

The inspector will ask lots of questions. They will ask you, your employees and their representatives, and anyone else on site. They will ask about what was going on when the incident happened, how you think the incident happened, how it could have been prevented and lots of other questions. You will also be required to supply your safety documentation – policies, procedures, evidence of training and induction, maintenance records of any machinery or equipment involved, risk assessments and any other documents.  

The inspector will want to know about your own knowledge and experience around health and safety. You will need to be able to talk about the main health and safety issues in your workplace also, and what you’re doing to manage the risks. You will also need to be able to explain what was in place to manage the specific risk which resulted in the incident.

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What should I expect next in the investigation process?

HSE may seize machinery or equipment involved in the incident. They may take it for inspection, investigation or as evidence. Think about how you will continue to operate if this occurs.

An investigation of a fatality or serious incident may take a while – days or even weeks. It is likely investigators will be back, or want further information. Eventually, a decision will be made about what happens regarding the incident. It is likely that you will be issued with a Notice of Contravention, Improvement Notice, Prohibition Notice or notice that HSE intend to prosecute you for breaking health and safety laws.

You must comply with the requests of an inspector who is investigating a fatality or serious incident. It is advisable to promptly seek counsel from a legal representative who is skilled in health and safety law if you have a reportable incident or fatality.

To reduce the likelihood of a prosecution against you, it’s advisable to have a safety management system which has been implemented across your agribusiness. With this in place, there is far less likelihood of a serious incident occurring and if one does, you will be better protected with a system in place and being used.

CTA - Safety Checklist

Disclaimer: Content on this website may be of relevance to users outside of United Kingdom, but content links and examples are specific to the UK. Please check with your local authority for your country and industry requirements.

Originally published 13 November, 2020.

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