The largest hotel network owns no hotels. The biggest taxi firm owns no cars. In the USA it has been estimated that over a third of the working population are freelance. The UK could be heading in the same direction, with the number of people officially self-employed rising steadily. ONS figures suggest around 15% of the working population are freelance. The gig economy is here.
Individuals see the advantages – choosing to work when they want to around other responsibilities or interests, and in many cases varying the type of work they do. Taxi driving for the morning run to station, delivering parcels, and perhaps using software skills remotely during the day. Organisations also see advantages – cheaper labour, without the overheads of going via agencies, or the long-term commitment of paying staff needed for a season or a project.
So it’s win-win? Maybe. As with any change in the way we work, there are risks to be identified, evaluated and managed. Legal and HR issues such as sick pay, pensions and the minimum wage are best dealt with by HR and legal specialists but here are some thoughts on the risks for health and safety.
“Gig” workers might not have the same experience and knowledge of workplace procedures and hazards as regular workers. If they have a portfolio of jobs, it might be a while since they’ve driven a fork-lift, operated a crane or worked in a warehouse. You need to ensure that pre-job briefings or “toolbox talks” are not just a formality, but a real check that people understand what needs to be done, what the hazards are and how to stay safe.
The Working Time Regulations gave workers the right not to work more than 48-hours a week and placed requirements on employers to keep records where workers had opted to work more than these hours. Tired people make more mistakes. If you run a factory which restricts overtime for safety reasons, how do you deal with someone turning up for an 8-hour shift who started the day with 2-hours of taxi driving, or finished the previous evening with 4-hours of bar work?
People are entitled to their privacy, but you are also entitled to know people are not exhausted when they turn up for work, particularly if the work is hazardous. Be alert to errors caused by fatigue, and make it clear to staff the standard of concentration required for the work.
Regulation 2 on CDM 2015 defines construction work to include “alteration, conversion, fitting out, commissioning, renovation, repair, upkeep, redecoration or other maintenance .. of a structure.” If you employ two or more contractors - perhaps one to put up scaffolding, and another to paint a wall - you must be clear who has the responsibilities of the principal designer and of the principal contractor. If you don’t, the responsibilities could default to you. The recent Pimlico Plumbers judgement raises a further complication. If your organisation asks a single contractor to do a job – say to redecorate an office building – and all the workers turn up in identical vans with logoed uniform on, can you assume they all work for that contractor? If it turns out they are self-employed, are you effectively employing two or more contractors? Now the gig economy is here, you should discuss CDM responsibilities with any contractor carrying out construction work.
Be clear whose responsibility it is to risk assess tasks. Whilst you might expect the electrician contracted to do your 5-year fixed wire testing to have their own risk assessments (which you should check) the freelance electrician working as part of your facilities team might assume you are responsible for the risk assessments. Agree in writing whose responsibility it is to produce, and then check, risk assessments. An online risk assessments software within an organisation, and with contractors, can make this easier to track.
Take Away Actions For Managing The Gig Economy
Keep records (ideally online) of training for all workers (staff, freelancers and contractors).
Identify any tasks where fatigue is a significant hazard, document this in your risk assessments, and share the information with your staff.
Get your legal or procurement team to include wording in contracts for future “construction” projects (as broadly defined) that makes it clear that contractors are not to sub-contract the work, or that where work is sub-contracted the contracting organisation commits to the responsibilities of both principal designer and principal contractor.
Check that all tasks where there is a significant risk are covered with documented risk assessments. Using an online health and safety management system will make this easier.
One thing is clear: it would be unwise for any organisation to use a claim that someone is “self-employed” as an excuse not to consider their health and safety.
For more information how Engage EHS can help you with the management of your organisations with Risk Management Software and Training Management Software why not request a demo from one of our product experts.