• David Sharp
  • 25 August 2015

Self-employed exemption from safety law in force soon

With a 1 October 2015 deadline just weeks away, the Government has issued a reminder about a key change to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 that exempts self-employed workers from health and safety law in many circumstances.

The change comes into force under a Deregulation Bill that followed the 2011 Löfstedt Review, which looked to simplify the application of health and safety regulation in the UK.

Under the revised Act, if you are self-employed and your work activity poses no potential risk to the health and safety of other workers or members of the public, then health and safety law will not apply to you.

The HSE estimates this will take 1.7m self-employed workers out of the regulatory environment, citing common low-risk occupations such as novelists, journalists, graphic designers and accountants as examples where a ‘common sense’ approach will be applied instead.

For anyone in the facilities management and related sectors, the boundaries to where a common sense approach might be deemed to apply are perhaps less clear cut.

Changes to the Act make clear that there are certain ‘high risk’ work activities where the law will still apply to self-employed workers, for example where the work is in agriculture, construction or railways, or where it involves asbestos, gas or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But there will be many self-employed occupations – for example, those involving lone working or work at height – where a presumption that health and safety law does not apply could actually increase the risk of an accident or incident occurring.

By and large, the changes have been welcomed by industry, though as reported by International Workplace in March 2015, many health and safety professionals were in favour of maintaining the status quo.

Commenting at the time, IOSH’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Richard Jones, said “we remain strongly of the view that it would be far easier and clearer to leave the law as it currently stands and has stood for 40 years without a problem. We firmly believe this exemption proposal is unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise."

More information on the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015 is available from the HSE website, including a definition of what is meant by ‘self-employed’.