Self-employed businesses now exempt from health and safety rules

Article Written by Bryan Richards
Managing partner at Arinite

Health and safety is seen by many businesses as an area wrought with red tape, and the potential for fines and liabilities for non-compliance.

It will come as a relief to many small businesses that, from 1 October 2015, health and safety law will no longer apply to 1.7m self-employed people in the UK.

What the law currently says and how it will change

Up until now, all businesses (including self-employed people) had to comply with the two main Health and Safety legislations in the UK:

  1. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, requiring them to work safely and not cause harm to others who may be affected by their activities
  2. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which assesses the risks of their activities and ensures measures were in place to manage these risks

In order to achieve this, documentation such as safe operating procedures and risk assessments, would have needed to be produced and kept up to date regularly.

But from this October, 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 (more on this below), then health and safety law will not apply to you.

This removes a number of onerous documentation duties and the fear of prosecution for non-compliance from the list of things self-employed persons have to worry about.

Who’s exempt?

Not all self-employed people will become exempt from this rule, as anybody working within industries that are deemed to be high-risk will continue to have to comply with health and safety laws.

In particular, anybody working in construction will continue to fall within the current legislation, which makes sense given that this industry is the most-commonly prosecuted for non-compliance.

Anybody working within the gas industry also needs to continue to comply, which is not surprising given that the “Gas Safety (installation and Use) Regulations 1998” is one of the most-commonly piece of legislation used by the Health & Safety Executive when prosecuting cases. Very often, these prosecutions involve self-employed people without the right qualifications; 61% of gas prosecutions are made against unregistered fitters and 15% against individual landlords.

Other self-employed people deemed to work in high-risk activities are those working with asbestos, railways or in agriculture. A quirk in the law means that anybody working with Genetically Modified Organisms also needs to continue to comply with health and safety laws, though the number of self-employed people working from their garden shed on the sequencing of the genome is bound to be fairly limited!

For most self-employed people, as long as your work activity poses no risk to the health and safety of anyone else, then you can consider yourself exempt. The distinction might not be as obvious for some businesses; for example, a self-employed hairdresser using bleaching agents is not exempt, but if he/she only cuts and washes hair then he/she would be exempt.

Other exempt activities would be wedding photographers, accountants, dressmakers, graphic designers, online traders or journalists.

What happens when expanding the business?

If you’re a startup and you hire your first employee, you will cease to be exempt from health and safety regulation. In particular, you will be required to assess the workplace hazards to which the employee may be exposed; identify where and how these hazards may cause harm to the employee, and then give proportionate information and training to the employee about the preventive measures to reduce or eliminate the risk.

Companies with five or more employees need to have a written health and safety policy, which should include a statement of intent, health and safety responsibilities and the health and safety arrangements to manage risk. For companies with higher risk work activities, more detailed and robust documentation and risk control measures will be required.

Finally, where an organisation employs five or more employees, it must have a designated “competent” health and safety person. It can be more than one individual or a combination of an employee and an external health and safety consultant.