The benefits of understanding HSE’s regulatory approach

Examining the approach and range of HSE interventions

It is worth remembering that inspection, investigation and enforcement are just some of the tools HSE has available to it. By understanding HSE’s regulation policy, businesses and insurers can benefit from the guidance and expertise available.

During health and safety investigations, there are occasions when there is conflict between a business and its regulator (the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or a Local Authority (LA)). However, far from being on different sides, reducing the number of workplace accidents and injuries is important to employers, employees, contractors and insurers, as well as HSE. 

Enforcement is just one of the tools HSE has available to it as a regulator, but enforcement is what many people associate HSE with. Businesses and insurers should be more aware of HSE’s regulation policy in order to understand how to benefit from the guidance and expertise available, as well as to help minimise the risk of being on the wrong end of enforcement action. 

HSE has recently published a document explaining the main features of its regulatory approach and the range of interventions available to it. The key features of a number of these interventions are considered below. 

1. Influencing and engaging with stakeholders and others in industry

HSE encourages employers to raise awareness, create behavioural change and take ownership for driving forward improvements in health and safety standards by working with trade associations, professional bodies and trade unions. Businesses of all sizes should get involved with these groups to share knowledge and expertise. It is also an inexpensive way of demonstrating to their regulator a commitment to managing health and safety.

2. Influencing large employers

HSE recognises that by influencing large employers there is the potential to significantly improve health and safety for large numbers of people, which is an efficient use of its resources. This does not necessarily mean that large employers are more likely to be prosecuted, or conversely, that small businesses and the self-employed can become complacent. 

HSE recognises that large organisations have significant influence on other businesses and large organisations are expected to ‘lead by example’. In addition to demanding good health and safety systems in large organisations, HSE encourages such organisations to use their influence to improve standards elsewhere, for example, further down the supply chain by inclusion of suitable conditions in purchasing contracts. 

3. Promoting proportionate and sensible health and safety

There are many examples of ‘health and safety gone mad’ type stories in the media, such as children being required to wear safety glasses to play conkers. However, HSE’s policy states that a sensible approach to health and safety means focusing on the significant risks – those with the potential to cause real harm and suffering – and avoiding wasting resource on insignificant risks.

The Independent Regulatory Challenge Panel provides a forum for companies and individuals to complain about advice issued by HSE or LA inspectors which is considered to be incorrect or disproportionate to the risk. Also, HSE’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel gives people the ability to challenge incorrect or over-the-top decisions or advice given by non-regulators, such as insurance companies, health and safety consultants and employers, taken in the name of health and safety.

4. Inspection, investigation and enforcement

In addition to routine inspections, HSE investigates accidents, incidents, cases of ill health and concerns raised by workers or members of the public. Clearly, HSE must manage its resources and cannot investigate all incidents or take enforcement action following all breaches. Consistent with its intervention policy, HSE’s decisions about how cases should be pursued are made based on risk. 

The benefits of understanding HSE’s regulation policy

Businesses can benefit in many ways from having good relationships with their regulator, for example, gaining free advice and guidance, being introduced to third parties and building up a good reputation which may just earn them the benefit of the doubt in due course. 

By understanding what HSE’s priorities, powers and procedures are, employers can develop their relationship with HSE to ensure they get the most out of the relationship. Whilst HSE is sometimes seen as the ‘enemy’, there are many advantages to having strong relationships with inspectors and interacting with HSE on a regular basis, and not just when things go wrong.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Claire Notley


I am an Associate specialising in regulatory law and enforcement.

Paul Matthews

Partner - Head of Regulatory (Yorkshire and North East)

I am a Partner in the Regulatory team and a corporate defence specialist who provides up-front regulatory compliance advice and representation to businesses and senior managers in relation to investigations and prosecutions by regulatory bodies.