HSE response to a major incident or civil contingency event


The Level 1: Divisional Major Incident Response Plan (MIRP) and Level 2: HSE Emergency Response Plan (ERP) are for all HSE staff who provide support to, or are involved in, the HSE response to a major incident. The MIRP sets out what has to be done at a local or divisional level and is particularly relevant to operational staff in FOD and HID; whilst the ERP sets out what has to be done if this response needs to be escalated.


The guidance sets out the principles of the HSE response to a major incident or politically sensitive situation and explains what actions staff should take if the response plan is implemented.

HSE's response arrangements for a major incident or politically sensitive event recognise that a graduated response may be needed according to the incident, so the plan is in two parts (both covered in this guidance):

  • Level 1: Divisional Major incident response plan
  • Level 2: HSE Emergency response plan.


Inspectors and administrative staff in operational roles or who provide support to operational staff, should familiarise themselves with the Level1: Divisional Major Incident Response Plan (MIRP) and with the Level 2: HSE Emergency Response Plan (ERP). In addition, inspectors need to be familiar with the Work Related Deaths Protocol.

This guidance and the Divisional and national contact lists/appendices should be available to all staff electronically. The following staff should maintain and keep securely a hard copy of the MIRP Initial Response Guide Appendix 4 and Divisional ad national contact lists for use out of hours:

  • Director of Regulation
  • Head of Operations FOD/Construction/CEMHD and ED
  • Deputy Directors – Field Operations Division
  • Head of Specialist Group
  • All inspectors (including trainee inspectors)
  • All specialist inspectors
  • All occupational health inspectors
  • HSL field scientists
  • All administrative managers

Operational staff at Band 2 and above should also have a copy of the ERP Initial response guide (Appendix 5)

Updating the Divisional and national contact lists

In each division a nominated plan coordinator is responsible for updating and amending the divisional contact lists and circulating updates to the national contact lists.

What? Who by? How often? When by?
First working day of…
Divisional contact numbers FOD, CD, CEMHD and ED Divisional Support Offices Quarterly May, August, November and February
FOD External contact numbers (eg LA and Police) FOD Divisional Support Office 6 Monthly May and November
HSE Duty Officer system contact numbers FOD, CD, CEMHD and ED Divisional Support Offices As required  
National numbers eg LAs, Cat 1 responders Emergency Planning Unit (EPU) 6 Monthly May and November
Asbestos Decontamination Contractors- FOD Divisional Office 6 monthly May and November


HSE's response arrangements for a major incident or politically sensitive event recognise that a graduated response may be needed according to the incident, so the plan is in two parts:

  • Level 1 - Divisional Major Incident Response Plan
  • Level 2 - HSE Emergency Response Plan.

Usually the initial response to an incident will take place at the divisional level. Information gained from the initial local response and briefings provided will inform whether the incident should be considered a potential HSE Major incident or whether the incident is likely to be of such significance that the high level, cross government committee, COBR may meet.

Level 1: Divisional Major Incident Response Plan (MIRP)

The MIRP should be invoked when events requiring HSE's attention meet the following criteria:

  • A significant event which demands a response beyond the routine, resulting from uncontrolled developments in the course of the operation of any establishment and transient work activity ….which may cause (or have the potential to cause) multiple serious injuries, multiple cases of ill health (either immediate or delayed), loss of life, serious disruption or extensive damage to property.

Who has authority to invoke the MIRP?

Authority to invoke the MIRP lies with Heads of Divisions/Operations. When the person who receives the initial contact is at Band 2 or below, they must consult the Head of Division/Operations if they believe the plan should be activated or if there is doubt about whether it should be. 

For the purposes of this plan, the person receiving the initial contact and making a decision about use of the MIRP is referred to as the Decision Maker.

Decision Makers will receive many notifications of incidents where an immediate HSE response might be appropriate.  Where they feel the above criteria are not met and that scaling up to a major level of response by HSE is unnecessary (most single-fatality incidents will fall into this category) the MIRP need not be used.  This is a key judgement. 

Questions which could help make a decision on whether or not to use the MIRP are:

  • Is the incident contained or still taking place?
  • If contained, has it caused such levels of death, injury or damage that HSE's normal level of out of hours response (eg arranging to start an investigation the next working day, or sending a single inspector straight to the scene to carry out preliminary enquiries only) seems likely to be insufficient?
  • If still on-going, how great is the remaining potential for death, injury or damage?
  • Is the event likely to create such political and media interest, and pressure for briefing that this would, in combination with HSE's initial investigation work, overburden a normal level of response?

The level of political and media interest in an incident is often determined by the severity of the incident and the sensitivity of the activity involved.  For example, major incidents affecting the public, such as at fairgrounds, hospitals or schools, and those involving exposure to asbestos or legionella have a high degree of sensitivity.

The MIRP should not be invoked solely in response to political or media concern for incidents which would not otherwise require a response beyond the routine.

If the Decision Maker decides the MIRP need not be invoked, it can still be used as a useful framework.

Level 2: HSE Emergency response plan (ERP)

The HSE Emergency Response Plan (ERP) provides information in addition to that in the Level 1 Divisional MIRP and should be used where the Divisional MIRP has been activated and either:

  • an incident has the potential to be declared a major incident by the CEO or HSE Board under HSWA s14(2)(a); or
  • an incident exceeds the response capability of the Division; or
  • in the event of a major Civil Contingency Event where central arrangements are activated by Cabinet Office. (The plans also cater for when HSE's attendance is requested at COBR without the need for an associated operational response eg flooding)

A major civil contingency event is:

  • where the capabilities of local or regional responders to respond effectively has been exceeded; and 
  • COBR, the central response arrangements have been activated, or
  • where emergency regulations, under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, have been invoked.

Who has the authority to invoke the Level 2 ERP?

Authority to invoke the ERP lies with the CE/Director Regulation (DR) in consultation with the appropriate Heads of Division, Chair of the HSE Board, Ministers and Legal Advisors Office as appropriate.

The HSE Board can instruct that an incident is designated as an HSE Major Incident under section 14(2) (a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.



There are a number of practical and logistical issues that need to be considered at a local level in readiness for responding to a major incident. In the event of a major incident the Incident controller will ask the Office administration manager and may appoint a Business manager to manage the implementation of these measures and wider logistical issues.

These measures need to be maintained and practiced regularly to ensure the division can respond effectively. More information is given in Appendix 1.

In the event of an emergency/incident that requires, or threatens to require, the evacuation of London and threatens the continuity of Government, departments are obliged to maintain alternative working premises outside the capital. HSE has limited access to the DWP alternative working premises. Details are held by Secretariat, EPU and BSD.

Initial Response

Initial notification

Notification of a major incident during office hours is most likely to come from the Incident Contact Centre or the Police.  The caller should be put through to the relevant B2 or, if they are unavailable, another senior officer. The person to whom the initial call has been passed should act as the Decision Makerand decide on any further action.

Notification of a major incident out of hours will be via the HSE Duty Officer.

  • For FOD/Construction/CEMHD-enforced incidents the Duty Officer will contact the relevant B1 from the Duty Officer list.  In the event of the most appropriate B1 being unavailable, the Duty Officer will contact the second name on the list which will be a B2 in the same region.  If a B2 is contacted, the other B1s in the region will assist with the response if required.
  • For Energy Division-enforced incidents the Duty Officer will contact the B2 in the appropriate Unit.  If the B2 is unavailable, the Duty Officer will contact another B2 within the Unit.  The B1/ HoU will only be contacted where a B2 is not available.

NB Information about home addresses and telephone numbers should not be released outside HSE without the permission of the person(s) concerned

Deciding to initiate the plan

Responding effectively to public concern may mean initiating the plan before the true extent of the situation is clear. The basic rule is: Respond quickly, scale up resourcing quickly, and communicate as soon as possible. 

  • Scaling back resource can be done easily, but delay and too little resource at the start can adversely affect the response and investigation.  Communicate as soon as possible with HSE Media and Campaigns team.
  • The appropriate Head of Operations, acting as Incident Controller, will normally determine the extent to which the full requirements of the MIRP are implemented in particular circumstances.
  • If the appropriate Head of Operations is unavailable, a Principal Inspector acting as Incident Controller will take the decision in consultation with the Head of Division or another Head of Operations.

A major incident needs very different management from routine investigations:

  • scale - resourcing requires a team effort (can be up to 20 inspectors etc.);
  • pressure - greater pressure on inspectors, managers and HSE;
  • political and media attention - likely to be more intense and long-lasting.   Briefing initially and regularly is crucial;
  • complexity - a major incident is likely to be technically and legally complex
  • roles - need to be formalised to structure the investigation and share tasks;
  • investigation – may require analytical investigation techniques (eg events and causal factors analysis);
  • timescale - investigation follow-up may take a long time before the findings are made public.

Initial response guides

  • The MIRP Initial Response Guide Appendix 4 provides a summary of what to do in the initial phase of a Divisional major incident response and supplements the Divisional and National Contact lists to form a concise "How to" Guide for operational staff.
  • The ERP Initial Response Guide Appendix 5 deals with the additional roles in the HSE Emergency Response Plan.

The initial response guides cover the following roles:

Appendix 4 Divisional MIRP - Initial response guide: Appendix 5 HSE ERP – Initial response guide: Appendix 5 HSE ERP - Investigation management roles for an HSE- declared Major incident
Decision Maker CE/Director Regulation Investigation Manager
Incident Controller HSE Secretariat  Investigation Team Leader
Incident Lead Inspector Media and Campaigns team (HSE Press Office) Investigation Team
Incident Inspector  COBR representative  Major Incident Investigation Board.
Office  Administration Manager Emergency Planning Unit
Head of Division
Media and Campaigns team (HSE Press Office)

Communication within HSE

Level 1: Divisional MIRP response - It is essential that the people in HSE listed below are given brief details of the event by the Decision Maker /Incident Controller regarding the potential for it being a major incident or civil contingency quickly, and that they are kept updated.

  • Head of Division or Head of Operations
  • HSE Media and Campaigns team (Press Office) - within an hour & before contacting any local media support
  • HSE Secretariat (Bootle) (within an hour)
  • Relevant Divisional Support teams (Bootle)
  • Head of Specialist Group
  • the HSE Duty Officer is kept informed of our response (out of hours only)

The Band 1 or Band 2 Incident Controller is appointed to deal with communications and provide a single point of liaison for the site inspection team.  In practice, the same person may undertake these roles.

The Head of Division provides the link to the HSE Emergency Response Plan as they will advise the HSE MB of the potential for any incident to become a Board major incident or civil contingency event.

Arrangements should be made for SopraSteria via Information Technology and Facilities Division (ITF) to be contacted at the earliest opportunity to ensure HSE systems will be available out of hours. This is important as SopraSteria may have scheduled work which could close down all or part of the systems.

N.B. Before making contact with SopraSteria via ITF, an assessment will need to be made as to which systems are required to support the response to the incident, eg are all systems such as TRIM, COIN, etc. necessary or would just email and/or the intranet be sufficient?

ITF contact details are in the divisionally held National Contact Lists (Annex 5).

Other HSE interests - If any other part of HSE may have an interest, they should be told as soon as possible.  Heads of Division and the HSE Duty Officer have a list of contact telephone numbers.

FOD or Construction will lead the investigation of incidents other than CEMHD or ED-regulated major hazards.  (See team descriptions in the Divisional Contact lists)

Note: If the incident involves a nuclear site and ONR involvement is not already clear, it will be necessary to contact ONR (See draft MOU between HSE and ONR – TRIM 2014/131581).  Out of hours, the appropriate ONR contact number is available from the HSE Duty Officer.

Level 2: HSE ERP Response - All information on either a potential HSE declared Major Incident or civil contingency event must be shared with:

  • A member of the HSE MB;
  • The appropriate Divisional Director;
  • HSE Secretariat;
  • Civil Contingencies Coordinator (Head of Emergency Planning Unit);
  • HSE Chair and Ministers (if appropriate)

HSE's Response (or Concept of operations)

HSE has a 24/7 response to incidents that includes a decision maker who will assess the initial incident and determine HSE's approach and deployment of resource – more detail is given in Appendix 1. HSE will give our best endeavours to respond to any reasonable request for information or a site response to an on-going live incident. We cannot guarantee attendance out of hours but, as a minimum, we will offer telephone advice.

HSE must decide whether or not attendance at site is required or desirable. In the initial response site presence may put additional pressure on inspectors. The emergency services, usually under the overall charge of the police, are responsible for controlling emergencies, including public protection.  There are limited exceptions to this eg underground mine workings. 

HSE must be careful to:

  • avoid giving any appearance of being in charge
  • not impede the progress of the emergency services.

Before HSE's presence on site or investigation starts, the Incident Controller, in conjunction with the Lead Inspector, must carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.  The findings should be recorded and updated as necessary.  A suggested template is in Appendix 7.

You should consider the team's exposure to stress and the HSE Health and Safety team in PACD can offer more information on accessing support.

HSE's role on site

If a decision is made to attend site, HSE's main task is to observe from a place of safety so others in HSE can be briefed and help later investigations.  If we get involved during the initial response, it should normally be to provide technical support at the request of the emergency services. In our enforcement capacity we should only intervene in circumstances of extreme risk to the emergency services or others.  We should not use our powers to direct that premises be left undisturbed if this would interfere with essential emergency work.

If a fatal incident is being investigated, the police must be advised about control of evidence from an HSE perspective.  Where we cannot immediately get to site this must be done via telephone.

Once the incident is under control, we may need to advise on recovery of the site so that access is made safe.  At this stage we should arrange to preserve evidence, using our formal powers if necessary.  A Notice to leave undisturbed can be posted on site as well as served on the person in control of the premises.  HSE may also need to ask the Building Control department of the local authority to take action on dangerous buildings or structures.

In the initial stages the site team should keep the Incident Controller fully briefed through the Incident Lead Inspector.

Work- Related deaths protocol

In the early stages of an investigation parties are committed to ensuring that any investigation into a work-related death is thorough and appropriate. The investigating parties will agree to liaise and co-operate and to work closely together in order to achieve this, for example by holding as early tripartite meeting with the Police and CPS (COPFS in Scotland).

Multi agency working

The Strategic – Tactical - Operational command structure (sometimes referred to as Gold – Silver - Bronze) is used by the emergency services in the UK to establish a hierarchical framework for the command and control of major incidents and civil emergencies. See Appendix 3

Administrative support

Administrative support for the initial response will be provided by the divisional Band 4

Senior Admin Manager supported by other colleagues and appointed by the Incident Controller. Their role is to provide both administrative and logistical support to members of the initial response team under the direction of the Incident Controller - details of the roles involved in the response are given in Appendix 3. Information on administrative support arrangements, including a call handling system are set out in Appendix 2 - Preparedness.

During the early stages of an HSE response to a major incident it is likely that a significant amount of administrative support will be required.  Directorates should consider and where appropriate, action the temporary transfer of administrative staff across teams, in line with cross directorate working, to support the HSE response. It is expected that any such transfer would last only for the duration of the initial response and be appropriate to the circumstances. Key roles may include handling incoming information and logistics eg block booking hotel accommodation or organising temporary site accommodation if needed. In addition appointing a Business manager to lead on logistics and communications is helpful.

Handling media enquiries

The Incident Controller will liaise with HSE Media and Campaigns team (Press Office) to agree a media strategy, and arrangements for dealing with media queries.  The Media and Campaigns team will also brief the Head of Communications and other parts of Communications Directorate, including Internal Communications and the online team.

Out of hours: Media and Campaigns team contact is via the Duty Press Officer on 0151 922 1221

In practice the emergency services will normally be the lead organisation for dealing with the media in the initial response phase. The Media and Campaigns team will establish contact with the lead agency's press office to ensure messages to the media are joined up and coordinated.

Where appropriate, a senior spokesperson will be made available for media interviews; this would normally be the appropriate Head of Operations.  However, where there is major national media interest this may be the Head of Division. The Media and Campaigns team will advise and lead on these arrangements.

Where significant media attention or public interest is expected, the Media and Campaigns team will arrange for any press statements to be uploaded to the HSE website.

Media holding statements

Inspectors should avoid briefing the media without consulting with the Media and Campaigns team. The agencies involved in the incident will be working hard to manage the messages going to the media and the release of unconfirmed/ uncoordinated information can cause undue public concern. Where there is likely to be press interest, the Incident Controller should make early contact with the Media and Campaigns team and ensure regular updates are provided.

In practice, inspectors on site may find they are approached directly by members of the media. Unless specifically requested to do so by HSE or the lead agency press office, you should avoid detailed engagement with journalists, and refer enquiries to the Media and Campaigns team. However, you should not offer 'no comment'. You could say something generic, such as:

  • You are from the Health and Safety Executive and our role in this investigation is to [support the police / emergency services]
  • Explain why the Health and Safety Executive is involved [for example, "we have the expertise in gas safety to be able to support the lead agencies"]
  • Advise the journalists to make contact with the Media and Campaigns team for updates

For fatal incidents or where there have been injuries, do not release details of casualties - this will be done by the police.

Recovery Phase

Recovery is the process of rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating the community following an incident. The lead category 1 responder for the recovery phase may not be the same as for the emergency phase.  Usually, the Local Authority will play the leading role.  A recovery strategy will be agreed to coordinate the multi- agency response.  This might be taken forward by a Recovery Coordination Group (RCG). HSE might be asked to provide technical advice and support the RCG or any regional recovery bodies.

Any major incident or civil contingency event will give rise to a lengthy investigation. The recovery phase may start and there may be buildings or equipment involved that need repair or renewing before the results of the investigation are known.

HSE has a role in enabling recovery to take place provided that risks are adequately controlled. HSE needs to ensure that:

  • Evidence is preserved;
  • The renewed/repaired equipment or plant is fit for purpose;
  • The control measures are suitable; and
  • Risks assessments and operating procedures are appropriate and in place before work restarts.

The business and local community, as appropriate, should be engaged with at an early stage and kept fully informed about progress of the operational response and when they may expect a return to every-day life.

For more information see the Cabinet Office guidance.

Investigation phase

The incident investigation should be conducted in line with FOD/HID investigation and evidence management procedures.

The recording capabilities of MEMT (Material Evidence Management Tool) and IMPACT should be used to log details of the evidence gathered and decisions made as part of the investigation.

The following additional logs are kept with Divisional and national contact lists and may be useful in the early stages of an incident to record activity in an incident control room on site or at the office:

  • Onsite daily movements log
  • Activity log

The approach in Work –related deaths Protocol – Practical guidance should be followed.

If the incident is escalated to a Level 2 HSE Major incident then Appendix 6 gives details of the requirements for a Major Incident Investigation report.

Investigation roles and responsibilities:

  • Level 1 MIRP - For details of the roles and responsibilities of the Incident Controller, Incident Lead Inspector and Incident inspector in the investigation see Appendix 4 MIRP Initial Response Guide

Incident control centre/incident rooms

For some major incidents or civil contingency events, it will be necessary to set up an HSE Incident Control Centre at or near the site of the incident. The Incident Controller will decide whether an Incident Control Centre is required.

See Appendix 2: Preparedness for practical advice on setting up an incident control room.

Dealing with on-going media interest

The media interest in a major incident can continue well beyond the initial response period.  In these circumstances, when the multi-agency operation to deal with the media has been stood down, the focus of media interest may switch to HSE as it investigates the cause and any criminal culpability.

There may be considerable interest in the outcome of the investigation and impatience for it to conclude. It is important to maintain regular contact with HSE's Media and Campaigns team and provide regular updates. As there is a possibility that criminal charges could be brought, only a limited amount of information will normally be able to be disclosed and this should be agreed with the Media and Campaigns team.

Financial support during a Major incident

The Incident Controller/investigation manager for a major incident will make contact with the relevant Divisional Finance and Planning Business Partner for advice on managing finances in support of the investigation.

The Finance and Planning Business partner will

  • alert the Finance Director and agree any cost sharing arrangements with them (see Contact details in Appendix 5 of the MIRP Divisional contact lists).
  • contact the Science Division (SD) Science Business partner to establish joint working arrangements, for example:
    • Regular keeping in touch meetings between the Divisional Finance and Planning Business Partner, SD and Incident controller
    • Setting up a shared TRIM folder to keep all finance documents for the Major incident together
    • Meeting with relevant Police Force to discuss sharing of costs such as temporary accommodation and investigation costs.

The Science Business partner, in liaison with Procurement unit, will make major purchases, raise Letter Contracts and monitor SD spend on supporting the investigation.

For expenses relating to temporary site accommodation such as tea, coffee, toilet rolls etc. receipts should be kept and costs reclaimed via RM.

Revision and review of HSE's arrangements

Emergency Planning Unit has responsibility for monitoring, exercising and reviewing, as appropriate, HSE's emergency arrangements. This includes considering experiences and lessons learnt from and tests or real incidents and ensuring these are disseminated.

Further Information


HSE Emergency Planning Unit, Redgrave Court, Bootle


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Updated 2022-08-16