An employee of BT Fleet Ltd had been injured in the company workshop while lifting a tyre onto a tyre-changing machine. A health and safety inspector named Mr McKenna visited the site and issued an improvement notice under section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The notice stated that the company had contravened s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 4(1)(a) of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

The improvement notice stated that the manual lifting procedure in BT Fleet’s workshop presented a risk of injury to its workers. A schedule attached to the notice provided that in order to comply with the notice BT Fleet should either provide mechanical aids for use when lifting tyres and wheels on to the machine, or “any other equally effective means” of complying with the notice.

BT Fleet appealed the improvement notice to the London East Employment Tribunal. It was conceded by the HSE (through Mr McKenna) at the tribunal that the direction to provide mechanical lifting aids to lift the tyres was not reasonable. The tribunal held that the phrase "any other equally effective means" included the implementation of proper training and supervision procedures by BT Fleet. The tribunal affirmed the notice and amended it by adding that the implementation of proper training and supervision procedures was an acceptable method of compliance with the legislation.

BT Fleet appealed against the decision on the grounds that the improvement notice was invalid as it did not comply with the provisions of section 21 of the 1974 Act. Under section 21 of the act inspectors must specify in improvement notices the legal requirements that they think are being broken and also give reasons for this opinion. In addition inspectors must specify how matters should be put right within a stated time frame.

The central issue in these proceedings was whether the notice ought to have been cancelled on the basis that it was not sufficiently clear so as to enable BT Fleet to know what was wrong and how to put it right. The HSE argued that the defects in the notice were not fatal as s.23(2) of the 1974 Act did not make it compulsory for the notice to contain directions as to the measures to be taken to remedy any contravention.