Global Legal Implications of Health and Safety for the Self-Employed

In recent years, self-employment has rapidly increased in both the United States and the rest of the world. Technology is making it easier for freelancers in a variety of fields to work from anywhere and connect with businesses all over the country, giving them both freedom and a suitable income. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as 40% of American workers could be independent freelancers by 2020.

This rapid increase in self-employed people could force the government to alter workplace laws, specifically with regard to health and safety in the workplace. After all, what constitutes a workplace has been changed by the increase in self-employed people. So, what are the legal implications of that with regard to health and safety?

UK Law

Across the pond, the United Kingdom has already addressed health and safety regulations for the self-employed. The Health Safety at Work Act (HSWA) from 1974 stipulates that those who are self-employed must conduct business in a manner that does not expose members of the public or employees of the self-employed person to health and safety risks.

In 2011, a document called the Löfstedt Review was proposed, advocating that self-employed people be made exempt from the HSWA when their business poses no threat whatsoever to the general public. In October 2015, the suggestions outlined in this review were largely adopted in the UK.

As a result, a significant number of self-employed people in the UK, from novelists and journalists to graphic designers and financial advisors, no longer had to worry about how the NSWA impacted them. Even self-employed people who employ others are exempt from the HSWA, which deems self-employed people fit to judge whether or not their work is potentially hazardous to the general public.

With the amendment to the HSWA, unless self-employed people work in certain fields or certain objects (i.e. agriculture, railroads, construction, gas, etc), they will not be regulated in any way. However, if there is an incident that causes harm to an employee or member of the public, they may be found in violation of the HSWA and face legal consequences.

US Lack of Law

In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) covers most workers but does not pertain to self-employed individuals. This gives self-employed Americans, as well as small businesses, a great deal of freedom when it comes to health and safety in their line of work. One could actually say it’s one of the biggest benefits of being self-employed or running a small business.

Ultimately, most self-employed freelancers pose little or no safety threat to the public at large. However, the regulation in the UK does leave the door open for prosecution if something unfortunate happens. Meanwhile, self-employed people in the US can rest easy knowing that they are exempt from OSHA and don’t need to concern themselves with health and safety laws.


Jenny Holt is a former HR executive turned freelance writer, who now spends more time with her young family and ageing, but ever eager Labrador, Rover.