Health and Safety Law Changes for the Self-employed

From 1st October 2015, health and safety law no longer applies to an estimated 1.7 million self-employed people in the UK. This is the latest step in the Government’s campaign to remove some of the unnecessary and burdensome red tape from employer health and safety duties.

The legal definition of “self-employed” can have slightly different interpretations in different contexts, but for health and safety a self-employed worker is someone who does not work under an employment contract for another person.

Previously, self-employed people had to comply with the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 and had a legal obligation to protect themselves and others from injury and harm so far as is reasonably practicable. However, following a 2011 review and subsequent recommendation to the Government from a Professor Löfstedt, this requirement has been relaxed for those self-employed individuals whose work does not present any real risk to other people. This would include desk based work and any other work activities where the potential for risk to others does not exist.

If a self-employed person employs others then they are not exempt and the laws will still apply.  There is also a list of higher risk activities that still fall under the original legislation and the duty still therefore applies. These are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015 and include:

  • Agriculture;
  • Asbestos work;
  • Construction;
  • Gas work;
  • Genetically modified organisms; and
  • Railways.

Self-employed people will generally know if their work presents a risk to others but under the new regime they must make this judgement and be able to justify it.