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January 29, 2014

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Self-employed to be exempt from health and safety law – are they really low risk?

In his speech to the Federation of Small Businesses this week, David Cameron announced that one million self-employed people will be completely exempt from health and safety law when the Deregulation Bill comes into force.

For a mandate of such magnitude surely we must be looking at a minority population undertaking relatively low-risk activities? I can appreciate that there is no need to legislate for individuals where self-preservation is critical in order to remain safe and healthy, so a regular income can be sustained. At first glance then, this exemption makes perfect sense, however the numbers suggest otherwise.

Last year the Office for National Statistics (ONS) stated that there are 4.2 million self-employed working in the UK, a number that has risen by 360,000 in four years (mostly since 2011). So in fact we are actually talking about a fairly large group who make up approximately 17 per cent of our total working population. Which of those 4.2 million workers is the PM suggesting that we exempt? Are the self-employed associated with undertaking low-risk activities? Sadly not.

In 2012, the four most common occupations with the self-employed were taxi drivers and chauffeurs, construction tradesman, carpenters and joiners, and farmers. There are more cases of fatal accidents and occupational ill health in construction than any other sector. This is closely followed by those working in agriculture. Equally, a recent EU-OSHA report has highlighted a number of risks to taxi drivers including unnecessary driving risks (due to work demands), manual handling, ergonomics, and violence and aggression.

Finally, it is important to also mention that self-employed workers work, on average, two hours longer per week (38) than an employee. Studies into behavioural safety have shown that fatigue and tiredness are a significant underlying cause of workplace accidents. It is no wonder then that the self-employed accounted for nearly a third of all fatal accidents in 2012/13 and the highest proportion (56 per cent) in agriculture.

This is a group, I believe, that need to be encouraged to embrace health and safety in order to protect themselves, their livelihoods and to stimulate growth in the economy. This latest stunt by Mr Cameron is another headline grabbing declaration that, in my view, is detrimental to the country and the overall perception of the importance of good health and safety management.



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