In 2011, the Löfstedt Review recommended that health and safety law should no longer apply to the self-employed if their work activities posed no potential risk of harm to other workers or members of the public. This recommendation came into law on 1 October 2015 as the result of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1975 (General Duties of Self Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015.
Broadly, self-employed people are exempt from compliance with health and safety law unless their work is listed in the schedule to regulations or their work poses no harm to members of the public. The list of industries are: agriculture (including forestry), asbestos, construction, gas, genetically modified organisms and railways.
Although this means that a large number of people will still be covered by the law, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 1.7 million people like novelists, journalists, graphic designers, accountants, confectioners, financial advisors and online traders will be taken out of compliance.
However, you are only “self-employed” for this purpose if you do not work under a contract of employment and work only for yourself. The law will still apply to you if you employ others, even if you are registered as self-employed for tax purposes.
If you are self-employed and have no employees, you could still be covered by the law if your activities could harm or injure a member of the public, clients or contractors. Whether or not this is the case is largely a question of your judgment and common sense but you should carry out a risk assessment of your own from time to time to ensure that you have understood your compliance obligations.
Do not be complacent about this. Even if health and safety law no longer applies to you, prosecution would be possible in the event of an accident if the HSE were to decide that the law does in fact apply to you. In any case, the ordinary civil liabilities could still arise, even if you are not covered by the law, if someone were harmed or injured through negligence. It is also still vital to carry adequate liability insurance.
The HSE’s guidance note on risk assessment can help you to assess risk in your workplace.