Notices that can’t be ignored

When you’re in business you are in the firing line for all kinds of legislation – and you have to get it right or your business can suffer badly. In fact, it has been known for businesses to simply cease trading because of something they haven’t done, that they should; or something they have done that they shouldn’t!

Typically, when it comes to health and safety, there are laws that govern what any business has a legal obligation to do and a number of authorities that have the right to send their representatives to inspect your premises to ensure that you are compliant. These authorities include the Health and Safety Executive (HSE, the local authority’s Environmental Health department, the Fire and Rescue Authority and the Environment Agency.

If you’re found to be operating outside what they consider to be compliant they can issue a variety of notices. You may get:

• An improvement notice requiring you to commit to making the required improvements by a specified date; usually relating to the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASWA).
• A prohibition notice preventing you from continuing to carry out specified activities. This may be relating to HASWA, the Fire Safety Order (FSO) or Environmental issues.
• An enforcement notice relating to fire safety or environmental issues, requiring you to upgrade or install specified equipment.
• An alterations notice requiring you to make changes in your fire safety activities and/or equipment.
• A works notice (similar to an alterations notice) detailing what needs to be put right relating to environmental safety.

If you receive any of these notices you have 21 days to lodge an appeal – regardless of the date on the notice stating the deadline for compliance. If you don’t take action you could lose your right to appeal.

Get good advice from an independent expert – and don’t panic. Notices are based on the judgement of the enforcing officer and are sometimes over the top. Act quickly and you may be able to stop things going any further.
Two things to be aware of:

1. All notices issued become a public record so you may get some ‘ambulance chasing’ to take place from advisors offering to come and help you address the compliance issues. Don’t get pushed into agreeing with the first person who calls. Ask around and check out companies who offer ‘instant’ advice.

2. Some notices are not notices! Sometimes the authorities issue a form that looks like an enforcement notice, but doesn’t actually have the words ‘enforcement notice’ on it. It’s often issued as a means of frightening unsuspecting companies into action, but is not a legal notice.

Our advice:

If you receive a notice use it as an opportunity to make your system better. It should not be a means of penalising organisations (although some authorities seem to apply it like that). An improvement notice should be an educational tool to help companies improve themselves. A prohibition notice is aimed at protecting people from dangerous conditions, not as a blunt instrument to penalise organisations (but getting independent advice is always a good move).

If you find that a contractor has been issued with a notice in the past, don’t write them off as participating in bad practice. The chances are that they are probably better than most as they have made the effort to get things right.