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12th March, 2020

Self Employed Health And Safety Responsibilities And The Law

If you're self-employed, you work yourself. You will probably be classed as a sole-trader by the HMRC. We've written before about the health and safety responsibilities of employers, and employees, but what about the estimated 4.8 million self-employed? What does the law say? What are the health and safety responsibilities of the self-employed?

You might think that as a self-employed person you don't need to worry about health and safety. After all, you are just looking after yourself. But since you are the only person doing the work, it's extra important to stay safe and healthy. So you can continue to work. And if you employ others, or put others at risk, then the law certainly applies to you too.

As a self-employed person, like everyone else, you will have a duty of care. This is a common law responsibility, and it is outside and on top of health and safety laws. The duty of care applies to everyone, so it's important to be aware of it.

Find out more in the duty of care explained.

But what about health and safety laws? Do these apply to self-employed workers? Well, yes, mostly.

First, you need to find out if you are self-employed from a health and safety perspective. You might be classed as self-employed for tax reasons, and fill in a self-assessment, but it doesn't necessarily mean you are self-employed under health and safety law.

For health and safety law purposes, ‘self-employed’ means that you do not work under a contract of employment and work only for yourself.

If you are self-employed, then you can find out if the law applies to you in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This is the act that enables all other health and safety regulations. And it includes self-employed workers in much the same way as it does employers.

But there were some changes in 2015. Since 2015, following the Löfstedt report, for some self-employed workers, the health and safety laws no longer apply. But this doesn't apply to all self-employed. It's estimated that for around 1.7 million self-employed, the law no longer applies. That's less than half of self-employed workers. The changes are marked in square brackets below.

(2)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.

[(2A)A description of undertaking included in regulations under subsection (2) may be framed by reference to—

  1. the type of activities carried out by the undertaking, where those activities are carried out or any other feature of the undertaking;
  2. whether persons who may be affected by the conduct of the undertaking, other than the self-employed person (or his employees), may thereby be exposed to risks to their health or safety.]
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Section 3

So the law only applies if you are self-employed and your work is specified (more on that below) or if other people may be exposed to risk from your work.

safety planning
Health and safety laws will always apply to certain activities

Only workers who meet the health and safety definition of self-employed, and DO NOT employ other workers, are granted exceptions under health and safety law. And there are a few more conditions. You must not put others at risk, and you must not work in any of the scheduled activities:

  • Agriculture
  • Asbestos
  • Construction
  • Gas
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Railways

So, if you:

  • Work only for yourself
  • Do not employ others
  • And your work does not put others at risk
  • And your work is not one of the scheduled activities

Then health and safety law does not apply. That makes sense. After all, if you are doing low-risk work, and don't have any employees, or put anyone else at risk, then why would it need to? There's no one you need to protect, other than yourself, which you would be doing anyway. You're not an employer, and while you're not an employee either, you will likely take reasonable care of yourself, without being told to do it.

writing
Working for yourself, by yourself, and not putting others at risk

Examples of where health and safety law WON'T need to apply to a self-employed person would include many home-based workers like:

  • A writer
  • A cake maker
  • An artist
  • A web developer

But it doesn't matter where you are based, home or not. It is more about the work you do. So it may also cover some self-employed workers that visit clients, like:

  • A photographer
  • An accountant
  • A seamstress

But only if you have no employees, and your work doesn't put anyone else at risk.

Examples where health and safety law WILL apply, even if you have no employees, are tradespeople, landlords, and even hairdressers.

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Bricklayers
  • Joiners
  • Handymen
  • Roofers
electrician
Health and safety laws always apply to construction work

If you work in construction, as a high-risk industry, health and safety laws comply. You need to comply with all relevant regulations, like COSHH, CDM and other construction-related regulations.

If your work puts other people at risk, for example, a hairdresser using chemicals and dyes, a landlord with gas responsibilities, or if you're running a garage or workshop where other people could come to harm.


Remember if you employ workers, you have employer duties under health and safety. If you put others at risk, you have self-employed duties under health and safety, to protect people from harm.

Find out how to protect people from harm by getting to know the legal requirements for risk assessment and the 5 steps to risk assessment.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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