New health and safety exemption comes into force for self-employed

Monday 5 October 2015

Many self-employed workers in the UK are no longer covered by health and safety regulations, as of October 1st.

The changes reflect the recommendations made in the 2011 Lofstedt Review, which suggested that self-employed people whose work did not pose any risk to others should not be required to comply with the requirements of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Up to this point, all self-employed workers have been required to assess the risks their work could pose and submit a report to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which some believed was an unnecessary burden.

The reform is designed to reduce the amount of compliance work required from low-risk professionals such as journalists, graphic designers and consultants.

Overall, fatal work-related accidents and illnesses in the UK have fallen by 87 per cent since the 1974 legislation was introduced. Non-fatal incidents have also fallen by over 70 per cent. Many countries have since adopted similar legislation inspired by the UK to help protect their workforce.

Of course, the the new rules do not mean that workers should not take all reasonable safety precautions relevant to their work.

Occupations and areas of work where the rules still apply include agriculture, asbestos work, construction, gas work, genetically modified organisms and railways, as well as any self-employed person who has any employees at all, which could be a factor affecting the growth of the UK’s small businesses in the future.

However, the rules will be simplified for companies who employ less than four people, allowing them merely identify potential hazards and train the employee in how to avoid them, without needing to submit risk assessment paperwork.

The change is expected to affect as many as 1.7 million freelancers across the UK, who should now have more time to spend on their business operations, rather than risk assessment paperwork. It is also predicted that the new rules will save contractors around the country £930,000 per year.

Eligible contractors will also no longer have to be concerned about the prospect of penalties for violating health and safety guidelines. In the past, these have averaged £43,000, with a 94 per cent success rate for prosecutions, making them a serious hazard for small organisations and start-ups, many of whom have limited access to capital.

Workers who are unsure about whether their work poses a risk to others are advised to consult the HSE’s guidance on the matter, although the final decision will be left in the hands of the contractors themselves.

It is also possible that the exemption does not apply to you if you are registered self-employed for tax purposes, so HMRC has issued another set of guidance for this area, which can be accessed on its website. You can also discuss the matter with your accountant to make sure that you are fully compliant across all areas of your business.

By Victoria McDonnell

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