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Harris v Evans [1998] 1 WLR 1285;

[1998] 3 All ER 522;

[1998] NLJR 745; [1998] EHLR 142;



The plaintiff ran a business providing bungee jumping facilities to the public by using a mobile telescopic crane. In 1993, the first defendant – an inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an inspection of the plaintiff’s crane. He advised the local authorities that the crane should not be used until it was certified fit for that special purpose. The local authority served the plaintiff with two improvement notices pursuant to s. 21 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The plaintiff mostly complied with the improvement notices but did not undergo a certification process as this was deemed impracticable. As a result, the local authority served him with a prohibition notice pursuant to s. 22 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, directing the plaintiff to cease using the crane, which effectively prevented him from continuing to operate his business. The local authority subsequently withdrew their notices following a letter by the Secretary of State for Employment, which stated that the advice of the HSE inspector was against the HSE policy. The plaintiff brought a negligence claim against the inspector and the local authority. On the defendants’ application, the master struck out the statement of claim as disclosing no cause of action, but the judge allowed the plaintiff’s appeal. Then the defendants appealed.


Do the HSE inspectors owe business owners a common law duty of care to avoid economic loss?


The appeal was allowed.

(1) Given the purpose of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect the public from risks related to business activity, and the extensive powers available to HSE inspectors for this purpose, when deciding what exercise of power they should make, the HSE inspectors do not owe a duty of care to the proprietors of businesses.

(2) To impose such a duty is likely to lead to postponing the health and safety decisions made until further inquiries are complete and would be detrimental to the ability of HSE inspectors to discharge their responsibilities.

(3) It is implicit in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that improvement and prohibition notices might lead to economic loss and the act provides a statutory appeals procedure to minimise its impact.

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