As of 1 October 2015, certain self-employed individuals are exempt from health and safety legislation. If a self-employed individual’s work does not pose a potential risk of harm to others then they will not be subject to health and safety law.

The move is introduced by the The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (General Duties of Self-Employed Persons) (Prescribed Undertakings) Regulations 2015 (“the Regulations”) which is a response to the 2011 independent review into health and safety legislation authored by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt (Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety legislation).

The HSE estimate that this change will affect 1.7 million self-employed people.

Health and safety law will still apply if:

  • You are an employer (ie. somebody works for you)
  • The work activity is specifically mentioned in the Regulations
  • The work activity poses a risk to the health and safety of anyone else

The Regulations specifically exclude some activities because of the risks involved so that health and safety law continues to apply to self-employed persons whose work activities cover:

  • Agriculture (including all types of farming, market gardening and forestry)
  • Asbestos (any work with) 
  • Construction (any work on a construction site – includes both commercial and domestic premises)
  • Gas work
  • Genetically Modified Organisms
  • Railways

In respect of the final class of self-employed individual who will remain subject to health and safety law, a work activity will pose a risk to the health and safety of another if another person could be injured as a result of the activity. It is for the individual to assess whether or not this applies to them. The HSE provides some guidance on its website which advises considering both the working environment (eg work in a garage/workshop where others could have access and be at risk of harm) and the equipment and materials used (eg. risk of burns/crushing/trips, dust/noise, hazardous substances). Examples on the HSE’s website include:

  • Hairdresser – if bleaching agents or similar chemicals used the law will apply, if not it won’t
  • Dressmaker working from home – the law will not apply
  • Photographer with clients occasionally visiting studio – the law will not apply
  • Office work – it is activity not location which is important
    • eg working on accounts, the law will not apply; drafting a manual for use by another operating machinery, the law continues to apply.