Health and safety in the gig economy

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.

Tiredness

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.

California car with number plate 'Uber 4U'
Uber drivers are particularly at risk of experiencing tiredness during work.   Image: “Uber 4U

Isolation

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.

Acid Attacks

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.

Pay Structure

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.

Solutions Needed

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.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Health and safety in the gig economy

  1. Honestly, all jobs are essentially gigs (i.e. framer, plumber, veterinarian, trucker, business manager, CEO), you will always be doing gigs, they are simply either short or long duration. Yes, delivery businesses and driving services are particularly prone to safety concerns because of the nature of the work but so is construction or any work that puts you on the road frequently at odd hours. Your addressing jobs that are used as second sources of income and I get that but really it is an individuals responsibility to decide on the level of safety they will accept in their work place. Dangerous driving to increase income is a choice, negative social interactions happen no matter what field you are in, isolation is a choice (in that you choose how you spend the other hours of your day). Are low basic wages increasing the amount people have to work to survive? Is mental health a concern? Is physical attack to steal property a problem? Yes, yes, and yes. But these are concerns outside of the “gig economy” really, and the term gig economy is misleading. Stealing and physical assault is why the police exist, mental health is not dealt with (well) in a lot of fields, wage gaps and inflation are a problem for everyone. Let’s not try to make this more unique than it is.

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment,

      I agree with some of your points but disagree with others and I’d be interested to hear your response to what I say. Not all jobs are essentially gigs. They might appear similar in that you do particular tasks and then are done with them (veterinarian gives treatment for animal, the animal is better and leaves). But there’s no platform/interim company that connects vets with patients, a business manager with businesses or a CEO with managers/their business and they don’t log in and out freely. Being a plumber or trucker might be more similar to the gig economy but those industries are far more regulated and far more likely to be the main/only source of income. Construction work and driving long hours are again heavily regulated e.g. mandatory safety equipment and rest breaks. Regulations in place because of the presence of trade unions, something lacking for the gig economy.

      I agree it is the individuals choice of the level of safety they want to accept and also that because it’s a second source of income, the issues might be of less importance. I also agree that inflation and low pay, mental health and physical assault are big problems. Not just for the gig economy but for all types of work. I hadn’t meant to suggest the gig economy deserves the most attention or attempt at improving, and all else is of minor importance. I talk about the gig economy and not other sections of the economy because it’s this blogs subject matter and it’s helpful to have a narrow focus. Also, I write about the health and safety issues in the gig economy because often the debate over whether it’s good or bad often revolves around flexibility (good and bad) and low pay. I had hoped to offer insight into something important (within the gig economy) that isn’t covered.

      Liked by 1 person

      • True, regulation of the gig industry is lacking but if we hark back to history, regulation in all industries has been lacking at some point. I would say my point is that the gig economy employees need to step up to change this if they want change–protest, an organized walk off etc. There is power in numbers and that requires some way to organize groups of people around an issue, if Uber had a driver walk off there would be consumer pushback on Uber when people couldn’t get a convenient ride. Ultimately though, these changes would make the gig industry like every other industry: less flexible, less convenient, and harder to work with. I guess the question is, what do the workers want from the companies? Would they like the job to be regulated and thus safer or would the like to keep the highest level of flexibility? There are always trade-offs to get what you want.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree, workers organising and protesting or doing some form of collective action can be great to improving their situation. There’s been some examples of this in France and the UK but I’m not sure of the success and if they need the pay from the work, their ability to walk out is limited.
          There’s definitely trade-offs wiith everything but finding what people want is more difficult I think. Different people want different things; as a student, I like the flexibility and exercise but someone who relies on delivering more for money might want higher pay or guaranteed hours/orders. I’ve also found there lacking any sort of communication between workers. There’s no easy way to know who works for each company (I don’t think the company would hand this information over). Unlike for construction where the company and workers are more linked and there’s HR records or in other industries. I agree trade-offs are necessary but it’s what those trade-offs are and how you galvanise action for them that is difficult (that could even be a future blog post!).

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s