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10th March 2017

What HSE inspectors are looking for and how to stay one step ahead

If you are unlucky enough to receive a visit from the Local Authority or HSE inspectors during 2017, here is the list of ‘hot topics’ that they will be looking to ensure are adequately managed:

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

What does this mean for me?

A health and safety inspector may visit a business if its work activities fall within any of these focus topics. This visit may focus solely on these topic areas or form part of a routine inspection, where all areas of risk are looked at, but with greater emphasis on these focus topics.

Businesses may think that if their primary activities are not listed above, that they are safe from an inspector’s visit, but this is unfortunately not the case. Inspectors can visit a business at any time they wish,  with no prior warning. This makes it even more paramount that businesses stay on top of their health and safety management.

What are inspectors looking out for?

Falls from height – work on/adjacent to fragile roofs/materials – fragile roofs/skylights etc. are common place in workplaces. Inspectors will be looking at and questioning employers on how repair and maintenance work is performed and managed.

Health risks – harmful respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust can be generated during common operations such as block cutting, chasing brickwork and cutting concrete floors. There is detailed HSE guidance for controlling this dust. Inspectors will be looking at whether there is any construction work going that could generate this dust and whether this is effectively controlled. This also applies to routine business operations that create this dust, such as granite cutting, where again the focus will be checking controls are adequate to prevent employees and others being unnecessarily exposed.

Duty to manage asbestos –buildings built before 2000 may contain asbestos. Inspectors will be checking to see whether the risk of asbestos in the building has been assessed, whether an asbestos survey has been conducted and a management plan with necessary monitoring put in place. They will also look for any minor construction work going on that breaches the fabric of the building without a proper asbestos survey and effective controls in place. There is a need to also ensure that those working within buildings likely to contain asbestos have receive awareness training.

Construction – the construction sector includes building construction, trades and civil engineering. Whilst improvements have been made to reduce the injury statistics, the fatal and major injury statistics remain high. The key risk areas inspectors will focus on in this sector are exposure to asbestos, silica dust, and paint and diesel exhaust fumes. Furthermore, exposure to dust, fume, vapour or gas, and dermatitis risk, along with manual handling, noise and vibration are all focus areas in this sector.

What if the inspector finds an issue at my site?

The purpose of inspection is to assess how well businesses are managing these health and safety risks and where they are not, to bring about improvements to achieve this.

Inspectors have a range of enforcement powers they can use to achieve improvement. This can range from verbal and written advice, through to Improvement Notices, Prohibition Notices and/or prosecution. Under the Fees for Intervention (FFI) cost recovery scheme, the HSE can charge you for their time for inspection, investigation and enforcement action. This is currently charged at £129 p/hour with the average invoice raised being in excess of £500.

Three tips to stay one step ahead

1. Be prepared by making sure you have an asbestos survey/register in place if the building you are occupying or working in was constructed before the year 2000. Also ensure your workforce has received asbestos awareness training.

2. Prior to employment of contractors for work at height or minor building works, make sure you check their risk assessments, method statements, insurance, professional membership and references. It is your responsibility to engage a suitable contractor.

3. For those involved in processes generating respirable crystalline silica (RCS), ensure you effectively follow the HSE guidance for controlling this dust, where respiratory protective equipment is used. This should be accompanied with evidence of a suitable face fit test having been undertaken.

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