Opinion

Self employed exemption: virtually a licence to kill

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Rather than reduce burdens or simplify things for the self employed, the Deregulation Bill creates confusion and will expose many thousands of self-employed workers, their colleagues, and the public, to risk.


The Deregulation Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords. It will have a significant effect on health and safety and is one of the most dangerous pieces of deregulation ever to have been proposed in this area. It undermines the simple message in the Health and Safety at Work Act that everyone should be covered.

The bill will amend section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act which currently places a duty on all employers and self-employed people to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of others.

This will be changed 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 (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

This means that any self-employed person who is not on a prescribed list will have no duties under the HSWA and will not be liable for a criminal act, or be issued with enforcement proceedings regardless of any risk that they pose to themselves or others.

The changes will mean that neither HSE nor a local authority will have any power to stop any self-employed person who is not on the prescribed list from 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 those of others.

The TUC believes the government’s proposals are unworkable. Employers’ organisations the CBI and EEF have both said the proposals are “not fit for purpose”.

According to the government, it is implementing a recommendation from the Löfstedt review of health and safety regulation Reclaiming health and safety for all published in November 2011, where he proposed “exempting from health and safety law those self employed whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others”.

However the current proposal turns that on its head and says that all self-employed people are exempt unless they are on a specific list. Professor Löfstedt has confirmed this and said: “The proposed government list of dangerous jobs that would not be exempt from health and safety law is the opposite to what I proposed and it is something that I do not support”.

The government says its aim is to reduce the burden of legislation on businesses. In fact it does the opposite as it does not actually change the situation for those who genuinely do not pose a risk to others and only creates complete confusion for all the other self employed.

Most of the 4.2 million self-employed people will be unsure if they are covered, or presume that they are not especially if they are not on the prescribed list of occupations or sectors (presuming they know about it). And those who clearly do pose a danger will think they now have nothing to worry about so will believe there is no need for any safety precautions.

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 towards them. Self-employed people who employ others may interpret it as meaning that they are exempt from the law. Given that the most dangerous industries all have a high proportion of self-employed people in them (agriculture, construction, etc.) anything that confuses the situation could prove to be a disaster.

Rather than reduce burdens or simplify things for the self employed, this bill creates confusion and the only people who will benefit will be the consultants and lawyers that the self employed will now need to explain their legal position. But most worryingly it will expose many thousands of self-employed workers, their colleagues, and the public, to risk.

 

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