Crunch - Health and Safety - Health and safety for the self-employed

In 2017/18, an estimated 135,000 people were absent from work for over seven days, and a further 420,000 were absent for up to a week.

Simply put, employers and self-employed people have to undertake risk assessments at work. It used to be that every business with five or more employees should have a written health and safety policy and record the significant findings of their risk assessment. These rules have changed since the inception of the original Health and Safety at Work Act, however.

Health & Safety Executive

Here’s what the Health & Safety Executive asks you to remember when making a risk assessment:

  • a hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc.
  • the risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.

The HSE lays down a few basic requirements for office environments:

  • Lighting - should be adequate to avoid causing eye-strain or other potential visual impairments
  • Temperature - should be at least 16°C. Although there’s no law-binding upper limit, research suggests work-based accidents become more likely above a temperature of 24°C
  • Drinking water - should be available on-tap
  • Toilets - a sufficient number, clean and fully functioning
  • Washing - provide hot and cold water, soap and towels
  • Space - provide at least 11 cubic metres for each person permanently occupying a workplace
  • Computers - sitting at a desk and working via a computer also requires taking the right precautions to avoid back problems and eye-strain.

There's a Health and Safety Executive website which gives you all the information you need as a business owner.

Deregulation Act 2015

The Deregulation Act, which became law in 2015, changed the health and safety obligations of self-employed workers and contractors.

The previous Health and Safety at Work Act imposed a general duty on all self-employed people to protect themselves and others from risk to their health and safety, regardless of the type of activity they undertook or the risks this created.

The Deregulation Act, however, exempts the self-employed from health and safety laws/obligations if they have no employees, unless they undertake ‘prescribed activities’, which include work with or on:

  • Agriculture
  • Asbestos
  • Construction (on a construction site or any work in relation to any project carried out by a designer, client or contractor)
  • Gas (any activity to which the Gas Safety Regulations 1998 apply)
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Railways
  • Any other activity that may pose a risk to the health and safety of anyone other than the employer or their employees. For example, the HSE website highlights that a hairdresser who uses chemicals would constitute a ‘prescribed activity’, given their obligation to protect the health and safety of their clients.

Self-employed workers that don’t fall under any of the above ‘prescribed activities’ are now exempt from reporting under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurances Regulations (RIDDOR, for short).

We’d obviously recommend that those self-employed workers that are no longer obligated to make health and safety provisions do so anyway. Just because the government says you don’t need to keep a first aid kit around the office, doesn’t mean there won’t be times when one would come in handy!

Don’t forget that Health & Safety rules could even apply if you’re setting up a home office.

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Ross Bramble
Content Executive
Updated on
October 7, 2020

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