Next week the government is intending to push through legislation which will remove the cover which self-employed people have always received over the last 40 years since the passing of the Health & Safety at Work Act. Section 3 of this Act currently places a duty on all employers and self-employed people to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of others. The government is now proposing to change this to: “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description to conduct the undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety”. This means that any self-employed person who is not on a prescribed list (not yet specified) will have no duties under the Act and will not be able to be convicted of any criminal act, or be issued with enforcement proceedings regardless of any risk that they pose to themselves or others. This is one of the most dangerous pieces of deregulation on health and safety ever proposed.
This is dangerous because it means that neither the HSE nor a local authority will have the power to stop any self-employed person who is not on the prescribed listfrom doing anything that puts either themselves or another person at risk. This is virtually a licence to kill. It will be a green light to cowboys and incompetents to cut corners and take risks, not only with their own lives but also with ours. The prescribed list which the government has issued excludes large numbers of self-employed who certainly are likely to pose a risk to themselves or others. It excludes most of manufacturing and transport! Even in those sectors that are covered it is unclear who is included. For example in construction it’s not easy to tell whether it includes self-employed plumbers, electricians and carpenters who work in people’s homes.
Worse still, people who control the workplace where self-employed people work (often bogus-self-employed) will wrongly think that they do not have any duty of care to them. Self-employed people who employ others may interpret it as meaning that they are exempt from the law. This is very worrying when the most dangerous industries all have a high proportion of self-employed people in them agriculture, construction, etc. But most worrying of all is the fact that self-employed people already have a fatality rate threee times higher than employees – with deaths at 1.1 per 100,000 for the self-employed as against 0.4 for employees.