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What if the CEO asks me about…. a visit from an Environmental Health Officer

Published on 27 May 2022

Whilst Environmental Health Officers ("EHO") are often thought to be solely responsible for inspecting food safety requirements, their responsibilities are far wider, including monitoring and enforcing health and safety legislation, and issues relating to public health (such as food hygiene and pest infestations). Their remit extends across a large range of industries, including restaurants, hotels and retail premises.

In addition to responding to specific reports or complaints, they also carry out ad hoc visits to ensure businesses are complying with the appropriate legislation. The potential ramifications of an adverse inspection can be significant so it is important to be prepared for a visit and know how best to respond to any issues that may arise.

What to expect from an EHO inspection?

An EHO can visit your business at any time without notice during regular business hours. If you refuse them entry, a warrant can be obtained from a magistrate, with reasonable force able to be used to gain access if needed. However, it is always best to try and foster good relations with the enforcement authority before, during and following a visit.

When the EHO arrives on site, they should provide clear identification confirming who they are. As part of their inspection, the EHO can:

  • Take photographs and videos within the premises 
  • Take samples
  • Inspect documents such as training records, cleaning schedules and allergen information
  • Question staff and take statements from them

The EHO will be looking closely at any relevant health and safety procedures on site, which may include consideration of: 

  • Any relevant risk assessments
  • Personal hygiene and cleaning practices
  • The maintenance regime for equipment on site
  • The condition of the premises
  • Where required, any food management systems in place. 

If the EHO's visit has been prompted by a report of a workplace accident, they will be looking to see how the incident occurred and what measures you have put in place to avoid a similar occurrence in the future, such as: .

  • Adaptations to existing equipment
  • Purchasing new equipment
  • Retraining / refresher training for relevant staff. 

What are the enforcement powers of the EHO?

Following an inspection, the report from the EHO should: 

  • Provide feedback, including any issues that were identified and guidance on how future problems can be avoided
  • distinguish between recommendations for good practice and the legal requirements for which a business must comply with
  • detail any time limits for remedial actions and ensure that they are reasonable to allow compliance of any mandatory requirements
  • outline the procedures to appeal against any local authority action

The powers of the EHO are extensive and include the issue of the following types of notice:

  • Improvement Notice – This notice will set out the item(s) that need improving or require attention, along with the time limit for any actions to be taken
  • Prohibition Notice – This notice will prohibit certain operational activities until recommended actions / improvements are put in place. A Prohibition Notice is likely to be issued in the case of severe breaches

EHO actions which are specific to Food Safety include:

  • Removal of unfit food - the EHO may either seize any food deemed unfit or identify and label any food as "unfit" and arrange for it to be collected at a later stage
  • Hygiene Improvement Notice – This is a general Improvement Notice (as referred to above), which specifically relates to food safety / hygiene
  • Remedial Action Notice –This is a general Prohibition Notice (as referred to above), which specifically relates to food safety / hygiene
  • Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order – This results in the closure of a business upon the EHO reaching the view that there is an imminent risk to health. The Order would need to be subsequently confirmed by a Magistrate.

Where a severe breach of the legislation is found, it is likely that the EHO will consider whether to pursue prosecution. If either a Prohibition Notice or a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order is issued, then it is likely prosecution will be considered. The ramifications of prosecution for a business or any individuals involved could be significant.

It is also important to note that, whilst an EHO does not have the power to make an arrest, if an EHO does suspect that there may be serious criminal activity, such as fraud or hiring illegal workers, they will liaise with the Police who will take the lead in the investigation in order to make arrests and take action, if considered appropriate.

How to prepare for an EHO inspection?

Given the fact the EHO can attend businesses unannounced it is recommended that you are always ready for a visit. It is therefore essential for appropriate measures to be put in place to try and ensure that standards are maintained as routine and that all necessary documentation is kept in a safe and accessible place on the premises.

Here are some basic steps that can be taken to ensure you are prepared for an unexpected visit from a EHO:

  • Providing regular and appropriate training to all employees to ensure that they have an understanding of the relevant health and safety documents required for their role
  • Ensuring that staff are aware about the steps that should be taken in the event an EHO arrives on site
  • Ensuring that there is always someone on site, or able to get to the site quickly, who is suitably trained in health and safety management who will be available to answer any questions a EHO may have
  • Keeping the external and interior of the premises clean and clear of obstruction at all times
  • Ensuring equipment and machinery is serviced regularly and is operational
  • Providing staff with appropriate access to handwashing facilities, hot water, and adequate ventilation and drainage at the site
  • Checking that any health and safety / food safety management documentation is up to date and is easily accessible  

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