The UK has moved toward a gig economy over recent years, with businesses turning to independent workers and freelancers to meet their staffing needs. In this first post in our three-part series: New Challenges for Communicating Health and Safety in the Workplace, Wayne Dunning, our Health & Safety Manager looks at gig workers.
Gig workers are defined as those who generally take on short-term contracts, and who are often paid for each ‘gig’ they carry out as opposed to a regular wage. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimates that 2.8 million people worked in the gig economy in the 12 months to February 2018 – that’s around 4.4% of the population.
While this approach to business may open up new opportunities for certain sectors, it also raises a number of health and safety challenges.
What the law says
Employers are responsible for making sure all are aware of their health and safety responsibilities, which includes those working on a freelance or temporary basis.
This means giving workers the information, instruction, knowledge and training of machinery or equipment they need to do their job safely, whether they are on site or at a remote location.
Identifying the challenges
While there’s no shortage of legislation in place to protect gig workers, the real challenge is how employers put this into practice. Not all employers realise their legal obligations extend beyond the traditional workplace, especially as the gig economy becomes a more popular choice.
Different types of business will have different health and safety concerns. Some will need their staff to operate machinery or equipment on and off site, while others put their workers at risk while transporting large amounts of money. The BEIS survey found that delivery workers’ experiences of the gig economy are a particular source of concern, as they often feel unsafe while out on the road. This is typically found when lone working or when an employee is carrying expensive cargo to and from different business premises
Regardless of the industry, there are always going to be some health and safety issues that need to be addressed.
Putting health and safety first
The specific issues that face staff will vary from sector to sector; in any case, businesses need to know how – and when – to relay important health and safety information.
This needs to be something that’s embedded into a working culture, whether a business has a full-time workforce, or they rely on the gig economy. Communication is essential to making this happen; gig workers need to be treated in the same way as full-time employees, as this is the only way their health and safety can be ensured.
Gig workers will often find themselves working on other people’s premises. In this situation, many business owners wrongly believe the staff member will be under their control. However, this is not the case, instead, it is still the business owner’s responsibility to make sure their workers are safe.
The legal obligation to support and train gig workers goes further than simply providing the tools and knowledge to do the job. Businesses need to regularly assess their practices and identify the difficulties faced by their staff, before putting in place whatever safeguards are necessary.
Look out for the second post in our series New Challenges for Communicating Health and Safety in the Workplace, when we will be looking at remote workers.
Whether you’re a small business, large corporation, or multiple sites across the UK, we’re here to provide the exact level of health & safety support that you need. For more information or for a free consultation, call our team today on 08450 50 40 60.