Self employed building contractors excluded from H&S legislation easing


Professor Lofstedt’s very influential review of Health and Safety legislation, endorsed by the Coalition Government, has set off a train of legislative changes that are now going through consultation under the stewardship of the Health and Safety Executive. This finishes in October.

One very important and high-profile proposal is that the ranks of the self-employed, who in most cases are responsible to and for only themselves, are to be specifically exempted from most of the Health and Safety legislation.

A self-employed person according to the legislation means “an individual who works for gain or reward otherwise than under a contract of employment, whether or not he himself employs others.”

In Germany the self-employed are protected from legislation if they do not affect others, while in Ireland and Spain they come within the same laws as companies.

In the EU as a whole, a Council Directive (92/57/EEC) rules on how to implement minimum requirements at temporary or mobile construction sites. In the building sector, EU Member States are expected to place a duty on the self-employed to protect employees. Like it or not, construction is seen to be a high risk sector. People working for different employers and self-employed contractors commonly work alongside each other.

The HSE admits in its consultation document that the approach taken by the UK has been to extend legislation if the EU rulings do not specifically cover the situation. This serves to make the law more onerous for the self-employed than it might be elsewhere.

 No respite

The HSE is explicitly rejecting any exemption for people working in construction, because it is considered that even if you work for yourself and do not employ anyone else, you may put your work colleagues “at risk of harm”. Thus such contractors will miss out on a relaxation of the laws that is due to release 1 million people from the worst of Health and Safety red tape.

It is said by HSE that in fact many among this army of people are already exempted in various ways, but it is surely the case that most are not aware of the mound of legislation that does and does not affect them, and in most cases the effect will be to reassure them that they have one less set of things to worry about. Unfortunately their brothers and sisters in construction will not share in this reassurance.

Responsible safety consultants will be providing advice to one-person firms on what areas of legislation they need to be aware of and how to carry out the risk assessments that they will continue to have to carry out. Firms like McCormack Benson Health & Safety are well-used to assisting small firms and large with their compliance issues, and taking their part when they fall foul of authority. It is important at such times that you have someone in your corner who remembers at all times that they are retained by you.