What the changes in Health & Safety regulations from 1st October 2015 means for the self-employed

A change is afoot for the UK’s self-employed workers, and it’s good news for some 1.7million one-man bands!

From 1st October 2015, 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.

So are you one of the sole traders that no longer has to worry about complying with Health & Safety legislation?

Well, it depends on two main things;

  • The type of work you do
  • How you work

The type of work you do

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015 states that Health & Safety law applies to you;

  • If your work activity is specifically mentioned in the regulations (see link above)
  • Or, if your work activity poses a risk to the health and safety of others.

So if your work isn’t mentioned in the legislation, the key question to ask yourself is; “What is a ‘risk to the health and safety of others?”

The HSE states, “This is the likelihood of someone else being harmed or injured (eg members of the public, clients, contractors etc) as a consequence of your work activity.”

There is no definitive list to refer to. It is up to you to decide whether your work poses a risk to the health and safety of others.

In some cases, it will be clear if your work puts others’ safety at risk, for example, if you organise firework displays, it’s safe to say H&S law still applies to you, but if you are a freelance SEO consultant you will pass this test.

How you work

The second consideration is how you work. The exemption from H&S legislation applies only to self employed individuals that don’t employ anyone else. This could therefore mean that you are self-employed for tax purposes but not deemed to be self-employed for Health & Safety issues!

To clarify, The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) states that;

  • For health and safety law purposes, ‘self-employed’ means that you do not work under a contract of employment and work only for yourself
  • If you are self-employed and employ others the law will apply to you
  • You may be self-employed for tax purposes, but this may not be so for health and safety.

The HSE calculate that the relaxation will relieve around 1.7 million self-employed workers from the burden of complying with Health & Safety law.

Examples of exempt industries

Self-employed workers in industries that will enjoy the exemption, include;

  • Novelists
  • Journalists
  • Graphic designers
  • Accountants
  • Confectioners
  • Financial advisors
  • Online traders.

High-risk activities

Those practicing high-risk activities will have to continue to comply with H&S legislation no matter what.

The two main types of self-employed businesses that are considered high-risk are anybody working with boiler or gas installation, and anybody working in construction, but it also includes anybody who works with asbestos, Genetically Modified Organisms, chemicals, agriculture and railways.

For practical help on what you need to do to comply with H&S Law, read ByteStart’s guide to;

The benefits to small businesses

One of the main aims of this change in regulation (aside from focusing the attention of the law when the safety risks are greatest) is to reduce red tape for small businesses.

With the changes freeing swathes of self-employed workers from H&S compliance, here are 3 big benefits for qualifying self-employed workers;

1. Saving time spent on dealing with red tape

Prior to 1st October, 2015 all businesses, irrespective of size and type were obliged to comply with H&S law. The change in regulation means that qualifying self employed workers will have a little less red tape to deal with as they will no longer be required to;

  • Identify, control and take steps to prevent hazards.
  • Record these via risk assessment paperwork and include which steps have been taken to minimise these risks.
  • Update their H&S policies and risk assessments on an ongoing basis.

With an estimated 1.7 million self-employed people freed from time-consuming duties, the impact of the change will be felt widely. If you are one of these, you will be now able to spend this significant amount of time in developing your business, thinking over your marketing strategies or focusing on your growth.

2. Saving money

According to an explanatory note published by the HSE, The Health and Safety etc Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015 will save self-employed businesses around £930,000 per year.

The costs are likely to be unevenly distributed: in practice a lot of self-employed businesses would have ignored previous compliance requirements, and those that went through the trouble of complying with the law up until now will see much greater savings.

3. Being relieved of the fear of prosecutions

A recent study revealed that 94% of prosecutions resulted in actual penalties, and that average fines for breaching general Health & Safety rules are around £34,000. So it’s no wonder small businesses fear them.

The issue for many startups and small businesses comes from blurred guidelines. The HSE says that businesses must record the significant findings, but that they are not expected to record everyday risks or to anticipate unforeseeable risks. However, where is the line between the foreseeable and the unforeseeable hazards? The HSE guide does not shed light on this.

So from the 1st October, around 1.7million self-employed people will no longer have to live in fear of missing a potential hazard and of being prosecuted for this.

Beyond this change: H&S when expanding a business

As a small business, if you are able to hire your first employee your business is in good health, which is very good news. The bad news is that you will have to comply with the H&S legislation again.

The procedure will be simplified for you though. You will have to identify where and how hazards may occur and train the employee to reduce or eliminate harm. You will be exempt, however, from providing risk assessment paperwork.

If your firm expands even more and exceeds four employees, you will be fully responsible for any risks that may cause harm to your employees or third-parties. It will be your duty again to:

  • Identify risks
  • Record and update risks through the assessment fillings
  • Provide appropriate training to your employees to restrain harm
  • Provide the right workplace facilities
  • Make arrangements for first aid, accidents and ill health
  • Display the H&S law poster
  • Get insurance for your business
  • Assign either an internally or an externally “competent” H&S person
  • Write a H&S policy which clearly says how you will manage illness or injury and who is the person in charge of H&S issues in your business

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Arinite, a health and safety consultancy company providing advice and support to businesses across the UK and Ireland. Specialist sectors covered, include; financial services, manufacturing, education, retail, warehouse services, social services, transport and leisure.

More help on legal matters affecting small businesses

For more guidance on legal matters, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;

Bytestart Limited info@ByteStart.co.uk

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