2. Investigation after a work-related death

HSE understands that families of people who have died at work will want information and to know what happens next.

When someone dies at work, the police and HSE work together from the start of the investigation. The police consider whether there has been a serious criminal offence. HSE looks for any failures to follow health and safety law.

If the death is work related, HSE will allocate a lead investigator. They will carry out an investigation to:

  • find out what happened and why
  • ensure action is taken to stop it from happening again
  • determine what, if any, legal action we should take, including a prosecution

Whatever the outcome of the investigation HSE will clearly explain the outcome and reasons for this to the victim.

Joint working with the police

There are formal arrangements for how HSE and the police jointly manage investigations that cover:

  • whether a serious criminal offence has been committed
  • how to decide who leads the investigation

These are detailed in the Work-related deaths protocol.

The police may appoint a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) to support you. They will keep you informed about any developments. HSE will contact you either through the FLO or separately.

What HSE will do

We will offer to come and see you at your home or other convenient address as soon as you feel ready.

If a home visit is not practical, for example because of distance, we will keep you informed by telephone. We understand if you do not wish to see us. But if you change your mind or your circumstances change at any point, you can contact us. Your lead investigator will give you their contact details.

Your investigator will carry photo identification. You can ask to see this to avoid any confusion over who is contacting you and why.

If you have any information that you think might help the investigation, please let us know.

We will update you at important stages of the investigation. We will contact you in the way that suits you best.

The timing and intervals between contacts with you will depend on things like:

  • how complex the investigation is
  • how much evidence we have to gather and analyse

The investigation and decision on whether the case should go to court can take a long time. There may be long periods between important decisions.

We will take into account your views and the impact that the incident has had on you.

We aim to tell you as much as we can, including:

  • what we have done
  • what we believe to be the cause
  • the action we intend to take

But, there may be things that we can’t explain in detail. This is because we have to avoid prejudicing a possible prosecution.

If we ask you to provide a witness statement to help the investigation, you can bring someone with you. Ideally this should be someone not connected to the investigation. For example an actual or potential witness who we may need to interview.

Our contact with you will carry on during any inquest and health and safety prosecution. It will stop when these processes have finished.

Legal processes

The legal processes where HSE may be involved include:

  • the coroner's investigation and inquest
  • criminal proceedings

The coroner's investigation and inquest

Coroners have a duty to investigate deaths reported to them if it appears that:

  • the death was violent or unnatural (such as a work-related incident)
  • the cause of death is unknown
  • the person died in prison, police custody, or another type of state detention

The purpose of the investigation is to establish:

  • the identity of the person who has died
  • how, when and where they died

As a part of their investigations the coroner will hold an inquest into the death. For a work-related death, this is likely to be before a jury.

Coroners may suspend their investigation, and adjourn the inquest until:

  • any investigations by the police and HSE are complete
  • any later prosecutions of homicide and health and safety offences has finished

When criminal proceedings have finished, the coroner will consider whether:

  • they need to resume their investigation
  • the relevant facts (who died, how, when and where) were established during the prosecution

Where there are no prosecutions, the coroner will hold the inquest as soon as possible.

More about coroner’s investigations and inquests

Criminal proceedings

If there have been breaches of law, either the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or HSE can prosecute in the criminal courts. CPS prosecutes homicide-related offences (gross negligence and corporate manslaughter), health and safety and any other offences. HSE prosecutes health and safety and related law only.

A criminal prosecution has to meet the criteria and tests in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The most important criteria are whether:

  • there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction
  • it is in the public interest to prosecute

The process for health and safety cases

Health and safety law imposes certain legal duties on those who control risks. We call those who hold these responsibilities as dutyholders. We can prosecute organisations (for example companies), individuals, or both. But, a work-related death does not always involve a breach of the law, or a serious enough breach to lead to prosecution.

We decide whether to prosecute when we have gathered all the evidence. Where we decide to prosecute we test it against HSE’s Enforcement Policy Statement. This says that we should make decisions which take account of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

At the end of our investigation, we will explain to you the outcome and the reasons for this. We will do this as soon as possible after informing the dutyholder. If there is going to be a prosecution, we will tell you about the next steps. This will include the date for a first hearing at the Magistrates’ Court. The hearing will be public, so you will be able to attend.

More about court proceedings

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