Self-employed workers are headed towards the safety standards of Victorian England

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

Health and Safety Executive statistics showing a fall in the number of people killed at work last year are of course welcome. Ironic then that the figures reveal that a third of immediate workplace deaths are among the self-employed when the government’s recently published draft Deregulation Bill will scrap health and safety rules for self-employed workers in all but high risk “prescribed sectors”.


Around 800,000 people will be exempted from health and safety regulations saving businesses, according to Ken Clarke and Oliver Letwin, the ministers promoting the Bill, £300,000 a year.


As the TUC pointed out in its response to the HSE stats, self-employed workers have a fatality rate almost three times higher than other workers – 1.1 deaths per 100,000 compared to 0.4. Exempting them from the regulations, even those in what are perceived to be low risk workplaces, to save businesses a paltry £300,000 demonstrates that it is an entirely ideological move.


The “war” that David Cameron says he’s waging against “the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses” prevents any consideration of the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of exempting sections of the workforce.


Quite apart from the difficulty with defining what is a prescribed sector – many self employed people do work where they put themselves at risk which is not in the HSE’s proposed list – removing protection will inevitably lead to rogue employers wrongly describing  workers as self-employed in order to avoid their legal responsibilities.


The Deregulation Bill represents a further assault on already watered down workplace health and safety rules and on the ability of injured people to enforce their rights. We now know that section 69 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, which amends section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, removing the ability of workers to rely on an employer’s breach of the regulations as evidence of negligence in any claim for compensation, comes into force on 1 October.


We’ve always said that without the ability to enforce regulations in the civil courts there is a risk of a return to the safety standards of Victorian England.


And that’s exactly where the self-employed, or the so-called self-employed, are now headed.


For more on the HSE’s fatal injury stats go to this week’s LELR.

Click on the image to access the full Thompsons Labour and European Law Review


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