As announced in the Queen’s speech on 09 May 2013, there may be exemption for some self employed workers from current health and safety legislation. There are no cuts to regulations, rather, the removal of some self employed from the responsibility to create a safe working environment as long as they do not pose a risk to the public. It is restricted to entrepreneurs who do not employ others. If the self employed were to injure themselves (and in doing so, not pose a risk to their environment), then, it is not normally in the public interest to prosecute the person who injured themselves as they have already suffered harm at their own doing.
These changes could affect around one million self employed people. It has been reported that the bill has been introduced because the government wishes to highlight its commitment to small businesses. There is the view that health and safety legislation is putting unnecessary strain on small businesses. The Coalition seems to want to cut down on unnecessary red tape for those who are running their own workload.
However, according to statistics from Unite the Union, self employed people can make work more dangerous in certain instances. According to Unite the Union, there is a fatality rate of 1.2 per 100,000 for the self-employed as against 0.5 per 100,000 for employees. To add to this statistic, there may be some confusion, as some self employed people may not know whether they are exempt from health and safety law or not. Some may assume that they do not pose a risk to the public in going about their work, and, in doing so could possibly put others at risk. So, relaxing the rules does concern some people. Because of these changes, a level of protection may be removed that currently exists and this may lead to an increase in deaths, injuries, and illnesses.
Some self employed people many not have adequate knowledge and an awareness of the risks to be able to assess whether their work environment is a threat to others. Courts may have a hard time trying to define ““no potential risk of harm”. Obviously, there is no such thing as absolutely no risk, it is related to degree of risk. Attempting to categorize risk according to sector will also be fraught with problems as many sectors may have blurred areas, for example, an office worker in the hazardous chemical manufacturing plant. In some sectors, health and Safety law may be mistakenly not followed.
However, in the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act imposes a duty on self employed people to have the responsibility so that they or the public are not exposed to significant risks. The law varies in different countries. In Sweden, for example, the self employed are only covered in relation to chemicals and machinery to protect their safety and that of others. Occupations of the self employed vary widely. Not all self employed will be exempt, only those that pose no risk to the public. Obviously workers in high risk areas like agriculture or construction wont be exempt. However, those working at home, for example, on IT takes may be exempt as they pose practically no risk to the public.
It was pointed out in the Queen’s speech that this deregulation would only apply to low risk jobs but there is a need to be clear on what is considered a dangerous profession. The law is not there to create an unnecessary burden but to teach society to be responsible, have common sense and to learn in a way that will aim to enhance existing laws to mature naturally, so that future generations can learn from experience.