With the rise in self-employment, independent contractors, and workers accessing the labour market via online platforms, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published new research on the risks and benefits of the growing ‘gig’ economy in order to inform future occupational safety and health policy.
RR1143: Understanding the health and safety implications of the gig economy set out to improve the HSE’s understanding about the health and safety implications of the gig economy, which is becoming increasingly prominent with 2.8 million workers in the UK.
The research provided the regulator with a suggested definition of the gig economy, which is "characterised by 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."
The study revealed participation in the gig economy is currently, and is likely to continue to be, dominated by the under 35 demographic group, typically described as 'millennials' (24 to 34 years) and 'generation Z' (22 years and under). The HSE said there is a danger that this younger age group may not be able to move beyond gig work and be perpetually "trapped" in insecure and precarious work, with negative implications for the health of the future workforce.
The research also found it is likely that the new business model, where work is mediated by online platforms, will remove supportive management relationships.
Key findings: health risks of the gig economy
- 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.
Key findings: safety risks of the gig economy
- 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.
The research found no obvious evidence that the gig economy is associated with any new, previously unknown health and safety risks, the HSE said.