• GL
Choose your location?
  • Global Global
  • Australian flag Australia
  • French flag France
  • German flag Germany
  • Irish flag Ireland
  • Italian flag Italy
  • Polish flag Poland
  • Qatar flag Qatar
  • Spanish flag Spain
  • UAE flag UAE
  • UK flag UK

What does the decrease in the number of HSE inspections mean for industry safety?

17 October 2023
In this article, we take a look at the recent reports that unannounced inspections by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are on the decrease, and consider the potential impact this may have.

Whilst Britain is one of the safest places to work in the world due to its robust health and safety regulations, the construction industry remains one of the most dangerous industries to work in. The danger is increased by those employers who choose to cut corners, provide only the bare minimum levels of safety, or ignore the rules altogether.

One of the ways that the Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") attempts to uphold its standards is through unannounced inspections. They have the power to arrive at a site at any time, without the requirement to give any pre-warning, and proceed to carry out a health and safety inspection on the site. The HSE will observe workplace conditions and practices to ensure that the regulations are being followed, and that employers are providing a safe place of work.

The threat of an unannounced inspection has kept businesses on the ball, helping to ensure that standards remain high at all times on the off-chance of an inspection taking place. However, it has been reported that over the past decade, there has been a 32% drop in unannounced HSE Inspections taking place – with 7,647 unannounced inspections in 2022-23 compared with 11,303 in 2013-14. The concerns that are now being raised relate to whether industry standards will start to slip if the threat of an unannounced inspection is reduced, and that the temptation to cut corners will increase. The resulting outcome could be that the amount of workplace deaths and injuries will be raised.

However, the HSE have assured the public that the decrease in the number of inspections is not indicative of progress. They note that over the past 10 years they have taken a targeted approach, and have focused on the areas of greatest risk using intelligence and insight – rather than carrying out widespread and random inspections.  The HSE also commented that they are continuing to work to influence industries to adopt safe working practices, and to provide guidance that is free of charge, clear, and accessible to all.


A reduction in the number of inspections does not mean that the HSE are becoming more lenient on companies that breach regulations. Penalties for non-compliance are continually rising and have hit new highs within the past few years. In 2021, a fine of £6.5m was handed out to W.H. Malcolm following the death of an 11 year old boy at a freight terminal. This is the highest fine recorded by the HSE, and sends a strong message that companies who break the rules will be punished. This was again reiterated in 2022, with a fine of £5m plus £91,500 in costs given to Northern Gas Networks Limited, following a fatal fire and gas explosion. This increase shows no sign of slowing down in 2023, with a £4.4m fine having been given to Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Ltd.

Whilst the number of inspections might be decreasing, companies should not take this as an excuse to lower their standards and put their employees in harm's way. In fact, employers should be doing all that they can to ensure that the proper regulations are adhered to, or risk being subjected to a significant fine should they be found in breach of regulations. Over 7,000 companies are still being inspected every year despite the decline, and businesses should always remain prepared for this to happen.

If you require any further information regarding the above, then please contact Amanda.Lea@dwf.law or Simon.Belfield@dwf.law.

We would like to thank Lauren Parkinson for contributing to this article.

DWF Crisis Response 24/7 Helpline
Register to receive our hotline number to safeguard your reputation and protect your business.

Further Reading