The gig economy poses significant health and safety issues for workers. Often the debate over the gig economy revolves solely around flexibility and pay, here are some of the main health and safety issues for the gig economy.
As working in the gig economy is often a side-job from other forms of employment, working for Uber, UberEATS or Deliveroo can make a long day’s work even longer. A recent Financial Times article is very revealing on the impact of tiredness (many of their articles are paywalled so I will do my best to summarise). The article tells the story of Sami, who works an eight-hour shift at the supermarket Tesco and then works for Uber afterwards for additional money. He says that he’s often falling asleep behind the wheel and that fellow Uber drivers can often work 14 or 15 hours a day.
Uber currently doesn’t limit the number of hours someone can work for but sends messages when someone has been driving for a ‘prolonged’ period. However, Sami point out that Uber doesn’t know if the driver has been working somewhere else beforehand and so can’t easily calculate recommended working times. Either way, tiredness can be a real issue and pose a danger not just to the driver and passenger but other road users if an accident occurs.
Working in the gig economy is a lonely job. For ride-hailing drivers, there’s possible interaction with the passenger but if it’s forced or unwanted by the passenger, their rating may go down. For food delivery riders, beyond a ‘hello’ and ‘enjoy your meal’, interaction with customers or other people is essentially zero. If people are working long hours, upwards of four for food delivery and up to 15 for ride-hailing, this can easily lead to a day spent with incredibly low social interaction. Coupled with a lack of control over orders, insecure income and low pay, long-term mental health issues are likely to develop.
Whilst in the past I’ve described how interaction with others is limited in the process of delivering i.e. from collecting an order to handing it over. The Financial Times article details important research by Kevin Daniels and others that shows communication and engagement with a line manager is important in ensuring the health and safety of ‘remote workers’. I’ve only contacted the head office once or twice and my issue was resolved relatively quickly and easily but feel essentially alone and separate from the overall company or platform. A lack of engagement with the head office reiterates this isolation and minimal interaction experienced.
Riders are also at risk of having acid thrown at them so their bicycle or moped can be stolen. This came to light after a spate of attacks in London this July where five individuals were attacked with acid, two of which were riders in the gig economy. This also links to more general physical and verbal abuse directed towards riders which has led some riders to avoid work in particular areas of London. I personally haven’t experienced anything like this but that’s probably due to the zone I work in having a high proportion of office buildings rather than residential areas. Hearing from other areas though, it does appear common.
It is welcoming though to see Deliveroo introducing increased safety measures for riders. These include a feature in the app that allows safety concerns to be raised, and the trialling of helmet cameras to collect evidence. As well as this, Deliveroo riders have been encouraged to meet with Air Ambulance and police representatives to discuss their concerns. What is of concern though, is the lack of support provided by other platforms like UberEATS and Jinn.
There is also an increased safety risk due to the nature of pay in the gig economy, that encourages quick deliveries to earn more. As a ‘fee per drop’ pay structure appears to have become the most common, how much they earn is bound with how many deliveries they do. This is likely to increase assertive behaviour on a bike or moped, particularly during busy times, and thereby increase the risk of injury. Additionally, it’s not clear what variables affect how orders are assigned to riders. If average delivery time is a major factor, this encourages the incentive to deliver quicker.
Overall, it’s clear there are multiple health and safety concerns with the gig economy. Whether these outweigh the benefits is likely to be down to the individual. As a student, I’m only in the gig economy for a small amount of my week so these negatives are less pronounced. For others, these costs are likely to accumulate over time and worsen the situation. However, it’s clear that changes need to be made to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of those working in the gig economy, particularly those for prolonged periods of time.