Health and Safety in the GIG economy is often over looked by employers and also employees. That is, until something goes wrong. Very heavy fines and imprisonment are real possibilities for employers. Death, loss of earnings, life changing injuries are possibilities for workers. It is something to take seriously.
What is the GIG economy
A recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research report defines the GIG economy as “short-term informal working relationships where work is generally on-demand, obtained via an online platform and delivered (and paid for) on a task-by-task basis.”
These workers may do jobs such as agency work, driving, nursing, caring, security, maintenance, or working on construction sites. They don’t just have one employer, they may have two, or three or more, all with varying standards of safety and working practices.
Whilst the research does not show any previously unknown health and safety risks affect this group, it would seem that the characteristics of their work may put them at higher risk.
Being able to turn your hand to anything is a good thing, right? You will always be employed. Whilst that may be true, safety is a key word.
For workers to be safe they must be familiar with their employer’s safe working practices and environments. They need to be taught new skills and how to use new equipment by people who are fully competent in these. This is not always happening. Many GIG economy workers are constantly working with and learning from different employers and colleagues whose levels of knowledge and expertise vary immensely. (Unison Health and Safety and the GIG Economy).
The key health risks found by the HSE’s report were:
- psychological health issues due to work-related stress linked to working to tight deadlines/time pressures/lack of sick pay protection, the need to be available at all times and lack of job control, control of working time, job security and autonomy are occupational stressors
- lack of health surveillance/occupational health care
- increased body mass and poor sleep quality
- job insecurity linked with poorer health outcomes
- precarious work associated with poor health outcomes, particularly mental health issues.
The key safety risks found by the HSE’s report were:
- drivers who have no maximum driving times, high workloads and the potential to cause accidents
- visual fatigue
- an association between occupational injuries and precarious employment
- lack of proper safety induction.
Who is responsible for health and safety
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 clearly states that the “duty holder” is responsible for the health and safety of their workers. A duty holder is an employer or self employed person. This person must risk assess the workplace and its activities to identify hazards their to employees and others who they may affect. They must remove or minimise these hazards.
It is possible that there is more than one duty holder. An example of this is a worker employed by an agency sent to work for an evening at a restaurant to cover sickness. In this case both the employment agency and the restaurant are duty holders. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires both to work together.
But I’m self-employed…
Or are you? A zero hours contract, or not having a written contract of employment does not necessarily mean a person is self-employed. When deciding if someone is self employed enforcement authorities, like the HSE, consider a worker’s level of freedom over their work. If someone has a zero hours contract and no freedom in deciding exactly how, when and where something is to be done, then the HSE may consider them employed.
Where a self-employed person is employed as a contractor, the contracting organisation has a basic duty of care to them. This is the same as they would to a member of the public. However, the contracting organisation does not have exactly the same responsibility towards the contractor as they do directly employed workers. For example, the contracting organisation doesn’t have the same duty to provide training or protective equipment to the self-employed person.
If you are not sure if someone is classed as a “worker” or “self-employed” ACAS can help. ACAS is the independent, Government funded, public body, that provides free and impartial advice to employers, employees and their representatives on employment rights.
Sources of further information, help and advice
The Health and Safety Executive has a wealth of free resources on their website.
If you are a member of a professional organisation or there are professional organisations for your industry, these are always a great source of industry specific information and advice
Trade Unions. Unionised workplaces often have safety representatives workers can contact. Also, the trade union, UNISON has published a useful guide to Health and Safety and the GIG economy
Rosecroft Health and Safety is a consultancy working to improve organisational health and safety standards, practice and culture