Regular readers of the piblawg will no doubt recall previous posts discussing the various implications of the Lofstedt report . Published in November 2011, it is of course more correctly referred to as the “Reclaiming Health and Safety for All Review”.  It included a large number of suggested reforms, all aimed at “reducing the burden of health and safety regulation on business, whilst maintaining the progress that has been made in health and safety outcomes”.

To date, perhaps the most high profile (and significant) of its implications was of course the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and its abolition of civil liability for breach of duty under health and safety regulations. We are of course now almost two years on from the coming into force of those changes. Despite this, questions as to what practical effect this change might ultimately have on personal injury practice remain unanswered as yet.

It appears likely that further issues may soon arise, with another of the Lofstedt report’s recommendations about to enter into force on 1st October 2015. This is as a result of the coming into force of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons)(Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations.

The Regulations are very short (hardly longer than their rather verbose title) and have only one practical purpose. This is to exempt the self-employed from the application of health and safety legislation. In this context, this refers to  obligations arising under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. 

As a result, health and safety legislation will no longer apply to anyone who is self-employed unless their work activities “may pose a risk to the health or safety of another person (other than the self-employed person carrying it out or their employees)

Certain activities will not be treated as exempt activities, irrespective of whether or not they are being carried out by a self-employed person. In those circumstances, the existing regulatory framework will continue to apply. Work activities that will not be affected by the 2015 Regulations for this reason are identified within its Schedule. Essentially, they include what the HSE refers to as “high risk” activities. These are those involving:

  1. agriculture and forestry;
  2. work with asbestos or involving the sampling of it;
  3. construction, including any activity giving rise to duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015;
  4. any work to which the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 applies;
  5. the “contained use” of genetically modified organisms; and
  6. the operation of a railway.

It seems unlikely that the description of any of these activities as potentially giving rise to a risk to the health and safety of another is likely to be contentious. What is rather harder to work out is who can (and should) assert that their work activities do not pose a risk to the health and safety of another and that they are thus outside the scope of more extensive regulation. The HSE estimate that 1.7 million people will fall within this category, but working out which side of the line a particular individual might fall is going to be more problematic and, inevitably, is going to provide fertile ground for argument.

Putting aside questions of probability and foreseeability, pretty well any work activity might plausibly give rise to risks to others. Presumably therefore, although the Regulations do not actually contain any wording to this effect, the words “may pose a risk” is to be read as indicating that there is a threshold level of risk below which it can be treated as non-existent. Quite where that boundary might lie in practice is however harder to determine. For obvious reasons, there are not yet any decided authorities on the point and presumably will not be for some time to come.

Nor is the HSE’s own guidance especially helpful. On the one hand, it suggests that the possibility that someone might be “burnt, scalded, crushed, trip over or fall” will mean that the threshold level of risk has been crossed and that the exemption will not be available. This is understandable. What is perhaps harder to understand is why it is then suggested that a baker working from home would not now be caught within the scope of health and safety law.

This uncertainty is not only going to be problematic for personal injury lawyers dealing with these cases at some point in the future. In the very near future, many self-employed people are going to have to elect whether or not to treat themselves as outside the ambit of this area of regulation. Whilst the answer may be obvious in many cases, for those whose activities are perhaps closer to the line, the decision as to whether or not to ignore some more onerous requirements may be a difficult, costly and unwelcome one. Is the making of that decision merely one form of bureaucracy taking the place of another?

It seems naïve to think that such a decision is not going to be the subject of regular challenge in the aftermath of an accident. Even if ultimately vindicated, the time, effort and money involved in having to deal with the inevitable consequences of this uncertainty are hardly consistent with the stated aims of the Lofstedt Review. Moreover, where individuals are found to have been in error in treating themselves as being outside the scope of more extensive regulation, the price of making the wrong call on this might be considerable…