Further changes to UK Health & Safety law were proposed by the government earlier this month, to "reduce the burden of excessive or unnecessary regulation". The changes form part of the draft Deregulation Bill, one of the seventeen bills announced during the Queen's Speech and will exempt from health and safety law those self-employed workers whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm for others.
The current law imposes general duties on everyone at work, including those who are self-employed, to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. However, a decision to prosecute takes into account both sufficiency of evidence and the public interest; a HSE prosecution is unlikely to be deemed to be in the public interest, where a self-employed person who poses no risk to others, injures himself. As such, the proposed changes would not alter this situation. Where there has been a prosecution of a self-employed person under the current regime, this is most likely due to there being harm, or a risk of harm to others; in which case the proposed exemption would not apply.
The changes pose the question as to who will decide when there is "no potential risk of harm". It may become clearer as the Bill progresses, as to how interpretation will be approached. The consultation concerning the changes ran from August to October 2012, with concerns raised by interest groups who called for extreme caution and protection for the self-employed.
The Government said the main elements of the Bill are: measures which will reduce or remove burdens on businesses and Civil Society and facilitate growth; measures which will reduce or remove burdens on public bodies, the taxpayer or individuals; good legislative housekeeping: repealed legislation that is no longer of any practical use. The proposals stem from the independent review of health and safety conducted by Professor Lofstedt, which questioned the inclusion of self employed workers in health and safety legislation, "whose work activities pose no potential harm to others".
The whole Bill would apply to England and Wales and some parts of it would apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Bill will now be published in draft form.