With nearly 1 in 10 working age adults in the UK undertaking platform work at least once a week, the gig economy (temporary working) is now a key part of the British working landscape. However, as workers move away from a traditional working relationship with their “employer” to using a digital platform such as Uber or Deliveroo to match with jobs, the lines of who is responsible for their health and safety can get blurred.
Current Picture of the Gig Economy
Working in the gig economy can provide flexibility to workers and give them control over their working life. However, an online survey of 500 non-permanent workers found that two thirds of workers did not have access to occupational health support and only 53% received a full induction process with health and safety training.
Gig economy workers can make the management of risks to health and safety more challenging for businesses.
Gig economy workers are often lone workers and some of the roles they undertake can be inherently risky.
A UCL survey of gig economy drivers, which included couriers, delivery drivers and taxis, stated that 42% of drivers and riders reported their vehicle had been damaged as a result of a collision while working, with 10% reporting that someone had been injured.
Of those surveyed, 63% stated they had not been provided with safety training on managing risks on the road and 65% had not been provided with any safety equipment.
Additionally, other aspects of the gig economy can also increase risks:
- As drivers are usually paid by the job, there can be pressure to complete as many jobs as possible. The UCL survey found that 47% said they would break the speed limit to meet time pressures and 30% admitted they had gone through a red light.
- An essential feature of platform working – mobile phones – increases risks with 40% of the drivers and riders reporting that the apps used to receive jobs were a distraction.
- Platforms can also use higher rates to tempt workers out when demand is high but supply is low which can incentivise drivers to work in poor weather conditions.
The responsibility for the health and safety of employees lies with the ‘duty holder’. This is the person or organisation who is responsible for a worker’s day to day safety in the environment where they work.
In a traditional model, it is usually easy to identify the duty holder. However, the lines of responsibility can be more blurred for gig workers. A simple explanation is that the primary duty lies with the person or organisation who has control of the premises or environment where the worker operates. For example, the responsibility for a temporary office worker will lie with the organisation who controls the office where they are working, rather than the temp agency who employs them.
Many individuals working in the gig economy are labelled as “self-employed” or “contractors” which may appear, on the face of it, to remove them from the protections offered to employees.
However, enforcement bodies and the courts will look beyond the labels given to relationships and examine the realities of the relationship. They will consider the levels of freedom and control the worker has over how they work. Remember that any indemnity between, for example, a business and a temp agency will not alter the responsibilities a business may owe to a worker under health and safety law.
Steps for Businesses to Take
Although the gig economy is a newer employment model, the management of health and safety risks remains the same. Businesses operating in this sector should ensure they:
- Hold adequate insurance for workers for whose actions they may be held responsible
- Conduct a risk assessment to properly identify risks
- Implement control measures to manage those risks, including ensuring workers:
- are properly trained
- have appropriate safety equipment
- are not incentivised to take actions which may increase the risk of harm to them, or others.
On November 12, 2019