An idiot’s guide to reducing the burden of regulation
Today’s Queen’s speech announced that there will be a new Deregulation Bill. This will, among other things, take those self-employed who pose no risk to others from the scope of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Now at present the situation is simple. If you are self-employed, you have a legal duty to ensure that you protect others from harm resulting from your work activity. This covers all self-employed people. It is pretty straightforward and it works. There is no confusion and it means that everyone is very clear that no-one can take risks with others safety or health, even if they are self-employed.
The Government now plans to change this so that any person whose work activity poses no risk to anyone else will not be covered. Now that may seem to be common sense – until you think about it for about 2 seconds.
When are you possibly going to be prosecuted under the existing Health and Safety at Work Act if you are self-employed? The answer is, if you injure someone or put them at risk of injury. The only time the Health and Safety at Work Act can be used is in circumstances whereby the person does put another person at risk. So why change it?
Every self-employed person is still going to have to do a risk assessment and if there is no risk there is no problem. That will not change. What will change is the confusion that it will bring.
Anyone who has tried to explain the change to others will know that it is not easy to get your head around what it means. Self-employed people will be unsure if they are covered, or presume that they are not. Even many people that clearly do pose a danger, such as self-employed scaffolders or electricians will think that they now have nothing to worry about so there is no need for any safety precautions.
Worse still people who control the workplace where self-employed people work (often bogus-self-employed) will wrongly think that they do not have any duty of care to them. Self-employed people who employ others may interpret it as meaning that they are exempt from the law.
Given that the most dangerous industries all have a high proportion of self-employed people in them (agriculture, construction etc.) anything that confuses the situation is a recipe for disaster. The government will say that these people in dangerous industries are not exempted and if you ask who is exempted they come up with examples like a novelist who works in their own home.
Yes, but the novelist in their own home is only covered now if they put someone at risk. That will not change. What will change is that hundreds of thousands of other people simply will not know whether they are covered. It is a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding.
This stupid and dangerous proposal is being done in the name of reducing burdens. How it is going to remove any burdens is beyond me. It does not actually change the situation for those who genuinely do not pose a risk to others and only creates complete confusion for all the other self-employed.
Instead it is an ideological move from a government that is solely interested in deregulation, or even worse, the illusion of deregulation, regardless of the cost. No-one is claiming that it will do anything to improve health and safety and it certainly is not going to simplify anything.
Once last thought on the matter. There is currently a fatality rate of 1.2 per 100,000 for the self-employed as against 0.5 per 100,000 for employees.