How we work
HSE aims to prevent electrical injuries by enforcing health and safety law and by promoting good practice in the design, use and maintenance of electrical systems.
Electrical Inspectors strive to influence and encourage employers, the self-employed and workers to take electrical safety seriously. They accomplish this by performing a wide range of work activities, including the following:
- targeted inspections
- respond to complaints
- advise individual workers and companies
- investigate many accidents
- prosecute companies and individuals
- assess the suitability of safety cases
- contribute to the making of national and international standards
- participate in debate
- review emerging technologies
- commission research
- write guidance
Workplaces are targeted for inspection according to a number of criteria:
- Previous history of accidents.
- Activities being undertaken.
- Type of equipment installed.
- As a part of a campaign to reduce specific types of accidents.
This targeting allows electrical inspectors to focus on the workplaces, industries and types of work that cause the greatest number of injuries.
The actions arising from inspections vary enormously and may range from a discussion of issues of concern and the provision of advice, the serving of improvement or prohibition notices, to the initiation of proceedings against a company or individual. Where there are concerns regarding the safety of equipment, the electrical inspector will contact the manufacturer or supplier, and if necessary prohibit the supply of that equipment within the UK until the problem has been resolved. Where the safety concern extends outside the UK the electrical inspector will notify the relevant authority.
Respond to complaints
Where a complaint has been made against a company or individual undertaking work activities within our jurisdiction, we will always respond and may investigate and take action if it is necessary. Complaints about electrical safety come from managers, workers, and members of the public.
Advise individual workers and companies
HSE electrical inspectors spend a significant amount of time advising companies and individuals how to reduce the risks of working with electricity. This includes the safe isolation of electrical supplies, the selection, installation, use and maintenance of electrical equipment, and training of individuals to achieve a suitable level of competency. Electrical inspectors make use of guidance material produced by HSE and will be happy to direct companies and individuals towards guidance that is suitable for them. HSE electrical inspectors have a good understanding of the Law in relation to electrical safety and will be able to advise when the requirements of the Law are not being met.
HSE electrical inspectors often give presentations at industry events, educational establishments and conferences, with the aim of influencing those in control of work activities. Inspectors work with people who train electrical workers to ensure the suitability and consistency of training courses.
Investigate many accidents
Unfortunately, electrical inspectors are often called to investigate electrical accidents. This generally involves going to the site where the accident happened, taking action to make sure no one else is hurt, questioning those involved, and investigating the circumstances under which the accident happened. The inspector will produce a confidential report stating the causes of the accident and making recommendations for further action. Where detailed technical inspection or the gathering of additional information is necessary the investigation may take some time to complete. Electrical inspectors may sometimes call on technical specialists within other parts of HSE or from the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) to assist in the investigation.
Points raised by each investigation are used to direct other activities such as targeted inspections, the giving of advice and may include the commissioning of additional research. Where equipment is found to have contributed to an accident, issues may be raised with the manufacturer and action taken to make sure that changes are made to new and existing equipment.
Prosecute companies and individuals
Where the Law has been breached, HSE considers prosecution if this is in the public interest. Companies and individuals may be prosecuted according to the seriousness of the breach and the potential of the accident. The Enforcement Management Model sets out the decision making process undertaken by HSE when considering whether to prosecute or not.
Electrical inspectors can recommend prosecution under a range of legislation including:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
- The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
- Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994
- The Equipment and Protective Systems Intended For Use in Potentially Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 1996
Electrical inspectors often work as independent expert witnesses in coroners, magistrates and crown courts, presenting an analysis of accidents based upon the evidence and offering opinion on their causes.
Assess the suitability of safety cases
Some specialist electrical inspectors have the task of assessing safety cases that are produced by companies who undertake particularly hazardous work activities. These work activities often involve the use of highly complex engineering systems to reduce the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Only when a safety case has been accepted is a licence issued which allows the work activity to be carried out.
Contribute to the making of national and international standards
Standards are used by Electrical Inspectors as a means of stating good practice in many areas of electrical engineering, and Regulations are a statement of the requirement of the Law. Many specialist electrical inspectors are actively involved in the making of national and international standards and regulations. This may involve reviewing, updating, discussing potential changes and supporting the functions of standards working groups, policy groups and solicitors.
Participate in debate
All electrical inspectors enter into debate with other parties regarding the most appropriate way to apply the Law in the area of electrical engineering. Other parties are standards committees, trade associations, other health and safety organisations, research organisations, companies, and individuals.
Reviewing emerging technologies
The development and application of new technologies in electrical engineering poses many challenges for the application of health and safety law. These may be new working practices, management techniques, equipment, and increased interaction between complex systems. Electrical Inspectors must understand the issues that arise and work to resolve those issues so that the risks posed by emerging technologies are controlled.
Many aspects of electrical engineering are well understood, allowing the risks posed by them to be adequately controlled. However, if the risks associated by a particular type of equipment or working practice are found to be difficult to control with all known means then electrical inspectors may commission research aimed at identifying a way forward that will satisfy the requirements of the Law. Research is normally undertaken by the Health and Safety Laboratory, academic groups or a consultant that specialises in this area. Most of the reports that arise from the research activity are available to the public.
Understanding the requirements of the Law can be a complex task and so many electrical inspectors regularly contribute to guidance that aims to clarify what those requirements are. The guidance is published by HSE Books and is either free or available at a very low cost. Guidance on electrical matters is aimed to meet the needs of employers and employees. Where guidance is not available, electrical inspectors can discuss particular concerns with individuals and companies.