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7th March 2013

Companies Billed in up to a Third of HSE Inspections

Between a quarter and a third of inspections carried out by the HSE since its cost-recovery scheme came into force in October last year found a material breach of health and safety law, resulting in a fee for intervention (FFI) on the companies involved.

This was revealed by the regulator’s head of field operations David Ashton, to delegates at the IOSH Conference on 26th February. The first run of invoices, which was initiated last month, has so far seen 1400 bills sent out to non-compliant business, meaning, he said, “the money is really coming in”.

Mr Ashton also highlighted what he called “the multiplying effect” of the scheme: “From the cases we take and the information we publish, companies realise that they really don’t want to experience ‘the knock’ from the HSE, followed by a bill. I don’t want to call it a deterrent – I see it as more of a spur to good behaviour, and this is a definite advantage of the scheme.”

Briefly explaining how the scheme works, Mr Ashton said that for companies that comply with the law in all significant respects, the HSE’s advice is free, while those who don’t will be charged for its time to put things right.

He reassured delegates: “We won’t go looking for breaches, easy targets, or deep pockets. And there are no financial targets for inspectors. We won’t change what we do, which is look at sites, see what’s wrong, assess the significance of that and act accordingly. If there is a material breach, it will trigger a bill for our time.”

The FFI procedure, once it has been trigged by determining a material breach – which, Mr Ashton emphasised several times, is clearly explained in the myriad guidance on FFI available on the HSE’s website – works as follows.

The company will get a formal notice of contravention, which will include details of what is wrong (i.e the contravention itself), what action is required, and information about FFI. This covers the entirety of the inspection process and the time necessary afterwards to report on that work – all of which is charged at £124 per hour.

Invoices are sent after two months, and the duty-holder has 30 days to pay. There is a formal disputes and queries mechanism, though Mr Ashton revealed that of the 1400 invoices sent so far, the number of appeals has been “in single figures”.

He concluded: “I think FFI is here to stay and, some years from now, we will be glad we did it.”

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