Three recent cases highlight the care with which Improvement and Prohibition Notices should be treated and the seriousness the courts attach to breaches of Notices.

Shabir Naseem (trading as SH Builders) of Fartown, Huddersfield was sentenced in February to 200 hours community service and fined for breaching a Prohibition Notice requiring him to stop refurbishment work on a building in Elland, West Yorkshire.

The Notice was served on Mr Naseem in June 2004 following a visit by the HSE to the site of a former amusement arcade. The visit highlighted the fact that basic requirements such as demolition training and protective equipment were absent. The Notice was not complied with and in March 2005 the building suffered a partial collapse while scaffolding was being removed.

Dunelm Property Services Ltd, a principal contractor on a housing construction project, was recently fined £44,000 for five separate charges relating to the contravention of Improvement Notices.

After a site visit by the HSE in February 2006, during which various deficiencies were noted in respect of vehicle/pedestrian traffic management and general site conditions, two Improvement notices were served on Dunelm, requiring it to take swift remedial action. Inevitably, the HSE returned to site to check on progress a month later. They found that little if anything had been done to comply and the decision was made to prosecute.

Finally, a case in March in which two companies were fined a total of £150,000. The large fines were actually imposed for breaches of ss2 and 3 of HASWA, but their size owed much to a background of the companies, Bau GmBH and Re-Construction UK Ltd, having between them been served with seven Prohibition Notices in the two preceding years.

In November 2005, after complaints from members of the public, the HSE visited the site of a new Lidl store in Nottingham. Various deficiencies were identified, including dangerous work at height, traffic management, PPE and fire safety. The decision was made to serve three Prohibition notices, with prosecution following.

A breach of an Improvement or Prohibition Notice is one of the few offences under HASWA that can result in a custodial sentence. These cases are a reminder, if one was needed, that both the HSE and the courts view such breaches extremely seriously. On the plus side, Notices are in the right circumstances appealable, and this should be borne in mind if it appears that the terms of a Notice are unduly draconian or unrealistic.