Preventing penalties – how to handle a surprise safety inspection 

Inspections from safety inspectors are on the rise post-Covid. A surprise visit can catch you off guard, but calmness, cooperation and confidence are key to preventing fines or enforcement notices.

To help you stay a step ahead of your next audit, we’ve answered your killer questions – and shared the correct protocol when an inspector comes calling.

Who will conduct the inspection? 

Safety laws in the UK are enforced by local authority Environmental Health Officers or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). For a typical builders merchant, H&S compliance will be regulated by local authority Environmental Health Officers (EHOs).

How often do inspections happen?

The frequency of inspections depends on the size and complexity of your business. However, routine inspections usually happen every few years. Accidents or complaints about your company will also trigger a visit; how soon after depends on the severity of the incident. 

Inspectors prioritise visits to businesses that pose the most pressing hazards and companies with poor health and safety track records. 

Can you refuse the inspector entry? 

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, the HSE and other regulators can visit and inspect your premises without any advance notification and can enter your workplace at any reasonable time. It’s possible to ask them to return on a different day, but it’s unlikely to help your cause. In the event of an inspection, it’s advisable to be as accommodating as possible.  

What will the inspector look for? 

Inspectors and EHOs ensure your builders merchant operates in line with all relevant regulations and has taken all practical steps to protect the health and safety of your staff and other visitors to your workplace. Ultimately, they’re looking for confidence in safety management. 

This means having solid safety measures in place across key areas, including: 

  • Workplace conditions
  • Risk assessments
  • Fire safety
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Training and supervision
  • Records and documentation

What happens if the inspector finds a safety violation? 

If the visit reveals a safety breach, the inspector can take a number of enforcement actions – depending on the severity of the issue. For minor risks, you’re likely to receive either an infringement notice and/or guidance on improving practices and preventing future compliance concerns.

Serious and immediate safety violations could incur a prohibition notice, which requires you to shut down the offending machinery, activity or process until correct controls are implemented. Your inspector may also consult with your employees, take photographs and witness statements, seize documents and conduct interviews under caution. 

In extreme cases, the inspector may recommend that your business is prosecuted for health and safety violations. This action may result in fines, legal penalties and possible jail time. 

Will your inspector charge you for their visit?  

The HSE runs a Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme to recoup costs from negligent companies. If you’re found to be violating health and safety laws, the HSE could charge £166 per hour for the time spent putting it right – from investigations to enforcement action. 

Businesses that comply with the law, or where there is no material breach, will not be charged FFI for any work the HSE carries out with them. 

Local Authorities do not currently charge fees for intervention. 

How technology can help 

Current, robust record-keeping and documentation are target areas for inspectors – and some of the simplest safety requirements to stay on top of. By storing all safety-related documents and data in a central online hub, compliance management software can ensure you’re audit-ready at all times. 

Because reports of compliance activity and performance can be retrieved in seconds, tools like Opus Compliance Cloud help you accurately answer questions and demonstrate due diligence over time. 

Get expert advice for your next inspection 

For guidance on preparing for HSE and EHO inspections – and advice on how cloud-based compliance software can support – talk to the Opus team. 

Get in touch on or call 0330 044 4015.