Safety and the gig economy

Protests and challenges to employers involved in the gig economy have been in the news. How do health and safety regulations apply to this sector?

Headlines. In November 2020 the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) won its fight at the High Court to improve the protection of gig economy workers, including its members who are van drivers, taxi drivers and parcel couriers. The court ruled that the government had not done enough to transpose two EU Directives into UK law, leaving these staff inadequately protected from coronavirus. Following this, two further stories hit the headlines in early 2021 with Uber drivers and Deliveroo riders complaining about working conditions.

HSE response. At the time of the High Court ruling, the HSE promised that it would provide some direction to businesses on how they should look after the health, safety and welfare of these workers, and it’s now done so (see The next step ). For health and safety purposes, gig economy workers should be treated no differently to other workers. The guidance acknowledges that there are many different types of employment relationship which might be referred to as gig economy jobs, but it narrows down the responsibilities into two simple roles: (1)  the supplier; and (2) the end user.

What must you do? If you are organising workers as a supplier you must consider the aspects of the job that are within your control and ensure that the work is safe so far as is reasonably practicable. This will include considering the safety of lone working couriers in higher risk urban areas, ensuring that time pressures don’t lead to road traffic offences, and reviewing whether the Working Time Regulations are being adhered to.

Tip. The supplier should liaise with the end user to ensure that the health and safety of the worker will be protected. This might include, for example, confirming that the worker has access to toilet and washing facilities at the premises. Day-to-day responsibility for health and safety during any work assignment by a temporary worker lies with the end user business. If you’re hiring make sure you provide the same standard of health and safety as you would for direct employees.

The HSE has confirmed that those who supply gig economy workers as well as the end users, each have responsibilities. Workers must have the same protection as direct employees, e.g. rest breaks, access to toilets, etc.

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