Freelancers - The Self-Employed

A lot of my personal friends are freelancers, the live music and events industry would not exist without them, most of them are technicians who either work for bands in roles such as Lighting Directors, Sound Engineers or Backline Technicians or they work for contract suppliers such as audio, lighting, video, stage and set building companies etc. I am a freelancer myself of course. 

Many freelancers want all the benefits of being employed together with the benefits of being self-employed, I can already hear the moans and groans before an argument develops when I say sorry, but you can’t have it both ways! 

Both employment states have their advantages and disadvantages, you get to charge clients more when you’re self-employed but then you have to provide your own Public Liability Insurance, training, personal protective equipment such as safety footwear, high vis tabard and a helmet, pay your own tax and National Insurance, this usually means you have to pay an accountant, you don’t get paid holidays, sick pay, a pension or P.D.s. You have to find work, it may not be regular and nobody has any commitment to provide you with work. When you are self-employed it means you are the employer and the employee as you employ yourself, you have all the responsibilities of both employer and emploee as you run your own business, but there are some Tax benefits.

When you’re employed you have the benefits of sick pay, paid holidays and a pension, your employer has to provide your training, PPE. Insurance, first aid cover and you get regular work etc. but you get paid less.

The problem is many freelancers still don’t fully understand what it means to be properly self-employed, without going too deeply into it, they want the money of freelancer and have all the benefits of being employed, such as PPE, training, insurance and first aid cover all supplied free of charge by somebody together with holidays and sick pay etc. It simply does not work like that!   

Having your own PLI, paying your own Tax and NI, providing your own training and PPE are having numerous clients, finding your own work are all methods of demonstrating you really are self-employed.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the moans and all the excuses from free-lancers, (usually backline techs who seem to think that PPE is not required for them, a myth often propagated by production managers, satage managers amd promotors reps.) when asked for a copy of their PLI certificate or to wear PPE in a PPE zone, an area where everyone has to use the designated PPE such as helmets, boots, high-vis or ear protection.

The usual excuses given are a) I don’t need to use PPE, b) I’ve got insurance so I don't need to use PPE c) I am covered by the artists or their management insurance. d) I don't have to use PPE or have insurance and nobody is going to tell me otherwise!

Let’s look at each item a) Yes you do and any insurance you may have will be invalid if you dont use PPE. b) Same answer as a). c) Yes they are covered by the artists or their managements Employers Liability Insurance against injury, if the artist or their management cause an employee or in fact anyone an injury or damage they covered by the ELI that all employers legally must hold. The freelancer on the otherhand needs PLI cover them for their own actions, damaging or injuring someone or allowing damage to equipment in their control, for instance, a flight case full of expensive guitars rolling accident off the stage. Yes, the owners have their guitars insured and will get an insurance payout but the insurance company will want to recover their costs and will want to claim against the freelancer who was in control of the case of guitars and that could be a problem for the freelancer if he or she is not covered by PLI and finally d) Yes you do and if your not going to be told go and get a job someware elase is the correct answer. 

Crushed foot.

I personally am jaded and very fed up with freelancers who refuse to get their own PLI and won’t use PPE, most of the young modern crew will have insurance and PPE but it’s often the “old school” who make comments like, “I have been doing the job for 25 years and have never hurt my feet so why should I need safety boots”, well there is always the first time so don’t be an idiot. It’s now a grown-up industry and we must be legally compliant and play by the rules now. PPE and insurance is not expensive and is Tax deductible. 

Like building sites where PPE is also compulsory over the whole site regardless of what job you do, we also have zones where PPE is compulsory, there may be venue or site rules or the risk assessment carried out by those in charge of the area or site may show its required and so it’s often listed in the Health and Safety Policy or the Safety Management Plan for the tour or event and with CDM now being applied to our industry, the CDM regulations require the use of PPE. There is no excuse or exceptions from the use of PPE, not even for backline techs!  


The picture to the left illustrates what a crushed foot is like when you don't wear suitable safety footwear!


Stagesafe is often asked to reccomend providers of Public Liability Insurance and other insurance products, we don't recommend any insurance company but we are aware of the following who provide the correct cover you need: 

Integro Insurance Brokers

Freelancers: 0161 419 3000

Crew Cover 

0117 922 2420              

Why do you need PLI? 

The equipment you use day in day out is worth thousands and if you accidently cause damage to it you could be liable for it. Make sure your policy covers you for this as many exclude it. OK the owners are insured for any damage but if you were in any way responsible for that damage their insurance will pay them and then come after you to cover their costs and your PL insurance will cover that, assuming you have PL insurance of course!  

If you injure someone by accident and they sue you, it costs a fortune just to defend the claim before they even get to damages.

Just to be on site you need liability insurance because the company that hires you has an insurance policy that says if their crew don’t have insurance they might not have insurance, this is often a contract condition. 

We are aware of at least two very cheap insurance scheams offered by differnt organisations within the industry. Be very cautious of these cheap scheams, they are usually what is known as "group insurance", the organisation holds a group policy and you pay to be one of hundreds if not thousands on that one policy, you do not have your own individual policy in your name only!

There are often exclusions and conditions on these cheap packages, you may not be covered for any work at height, that may include the stage you work on, it may only cover you for the UK or UK and Europe only not the USA, and it may be a condition that each job you do has to be approved or everyone working with you has to be members of the same organisation associaated with the scheme. Many employers will not accept these cheap "group insurance" packages so be ware.