Health, safety and the gig economy

A recent CSIRO report has considered the impact of emerging trends on health and safety at work and workers’ compensation over the next 20 years.

It identified trends including rising sedentary behaviour, blurred boundaries of work and home and the increased capabilities and uptake of automated systems and robotics in addition to the gig and entrepreneurial economy.

It questioned whether current OH&S (and WHS) regulatory frameworks and workers’ compensation systems adequately address these emerging trends.

In terms of legislation, those who perform services for gig economy platforms (such as Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker) are, for the most part, considered independent contractors for the purposes of workers’ compensation.

While this varies state by state, independent contractors in WA are not covered unless employed under contract for service and remunerated.

Gig economy workers can access insurance for personal injury or income protection privately through commercial insurers. This assertion by gig economy platforms was recently tested in the Fair Work Commission as to whether it was able to hear an unfair dismissal application by an Uber driver. It was determined the driver was an independent contractor and had no access to general protections claims or unfair dismissal remedies.

Everyone engaged in work has a duty to manage risk, however, it is the employer who has the primary duty.

Having said that, regardless of the of the communal responsibilities, the dynamic and changing environments gig economy workers are exposed to means it’s even more important for individuals to take ownership of safety and feel empowered to raise any issues.

This would depend on the core business activities of the platform in question.

With Airtasker, tasks or gigs vary greatly and effective hazard and risk management would be more difficult.

Hazards may include manual handling, road traffic safety, interaction with the public, use of household cleaning agents and intensive keyboard activity at poorly-arranged workstations.

It would appear independent contractors face the task of managing the risks by themselves or rely on the customer to manage the risk with perhaps limited ability or knowledge to do so at the point of transaction.

With Uber a more consistent set of risks would be present and therefore be easier to manage.

Health and safety risks could be anticipated to be worse in gig work due to the loss of traditional workplace protections, where hazards are identified and controlled more systematically.

However, it would be prudent for platforms to provide education on managing risk and duty of care with provision of appropriate information and instruction to ensure contractor safety.

And the contractors themselves would need to understand that both they and the organisation which engages them have OH&S obligations.

For further information about this and any workplace safety management contact CCI’s Safety and Risk Services on (08) 9365 7415 or osh@cciwa.com.

►Want to brush up on your workplace safety knowledge? Book your spot in CCI’s upcoming Safety for Supervisors course now.

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