This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

How HSE enforces health and safety

The HSE Enforcement Policy Statement adopts a wide definition of “enforcement”:

In carrying out its enforcement role, HSE follows these internal operational procedures:


HSE warranted inspectors:

Find out more about inspection.


Investigation includes all those activities carried out in response to an incident or a complaint to:

An investigation may range from an enquiry by a single inspector about a minor incident or complaint to a large enquiry involving a team of inspectors.

Find out more about investigation.


A complaint is a concern, originating from outside HSE, about a work activity for which HSE is the enforcing authority. We respond where we can identify the duty holder and/or the location and where:

Find out more about how HSE deals with complaints.

Enforcement decisions

Enforcement may include:

Find out more about enforcement decisions.


An inspector may serve one of three types of notice:

Find out more about serving notices.


Prosecution is punitive action taken against a duty holder following a decision making process that is impartial, justified and procedurally correct.

An Approval Officer has the authority to approve a prosecution, and the necessary legal competencies to assess a prosecution report in a way that is thorough, fair, independent and objective.

A Litigation Officer has received appropriate training to administer the prosecution, guided by either an inspector or a solicitor.

Find out more about prosecution.

Major incident

A major incident is a significant event that demands a response beyond the routine. The event may cause, or have the potential to cause, either:

‘Significance’ depends on:

Find out more about major incident.


Following a successful prosecution, the courts will decide what penalty to impose. HSE believes that the current general level of fines does not properly reflect the seriousness of health and safety offences. However, it is up to the courts to decide appropriate fines. In England and Wales (though not in Scotland), the courts may also order the defendant to pay the prosecution costs.

As well as imposing fines, the courts can imprison offenders. Five people have been sent to prison for health and safety offences since January 1996. Of course, if convicted of manslaughter or culpable homicide, offenders are likely to receive a prison sentence.

More detail on the maximum penalties for health and safety offences can be found at the back of the HSE Enforcement policy statement.

We also believe that many of the maximum penalties available for health and safety offences are too low – as the courts have themselves said on occasion. The Government supports our view and is committed to increasing many of the maximum fines available to the lower courts as well as making imprisonment more widely available for both lower and higher courts.

Work-related deaths

Under the terms of the Work Related Deaths protocols following a work related death the police will take the lead in a joint investigation with HSE or other relevant enforcing authority to see whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a serious criminal offence (other than a health and safety offence), such as gross negligence manslaughter (in Scotland, culpable homicide) or corporate manslaughter (in Scotland, corporate homicide) may have caused the death. If there  is insufficient evidence that such a serious criminal offence (other than a health and safety offence) caused the death, then HSE or the relevant enforcing authority will take over and investigate under health and safety law.

Updated 2016-12-13