Dying for Five Star reviews: Setting a safety standard in the Gig Environment.

Over the last few years, the term “Gig Economy” has become a general term, which in its conception was aimed at some form of start-up or accelerator environment, however the “Gig” actually refers to the transient nature of the work, temporary or short term nature.

In 2017, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the US economy had some 55 million participants and that approximately 36% of workers in the US took part in gig work in some way and a staggering 33% of US companies extensively used “Gig workers”.

The gig economy definition encompasses all sorts of contingent work arrangements:

  • Freelancers,

  • Consultants

  • Independent contractors and professionals; and

  • Temporary contract workers (short or long term).

The “gig” is not a new phenomenon— in fact, freelancers have been around since the dawn of time (it is just now we can call them something cool or funky that the Millennials get). The same can be said for consultants, temps and contractors (yes that’s correct and there are a number of recruitment agencies that specialise in this field).

The reason why the gig economy has been under scrutiny for the past few of years is that technology has lowered barriers to enter the gig market place and that “gigs” have become easily accessible to an unprecedented number of people around the world.

We all know the shift worker who has a second job, some of the time it is for want or need, some of the time it is a short term answer to a financial issue and some of the time it is for more social and interactive needs, either way no judgement should be pass as the “Part Time” job or as my American friend would call it “A side hustle” has now turned into a trillion-dollar industry with millions of participants globally.

So, who or what is a Gig Economy Worker?

Traditionally the idea of a gig worker was:

  • Rideshare drivers (such as Uber/Lyft etc.)

  • The odd job or handy person (TaskRabbit/Geeks2U/Hire A Hubby etc.)

  • Airbnb landlords

  • Online marketplace sellers (Facebook/eBay/Fiverr etc.)

  • Volunteers

  • Artists (Yes that is the musicians that I know)

But should the list also include (and for the purpose of this article I believe they should):

  • On-call workers

  • Food delivery providers (Uber Eats/MenuLog/Deliveroo)

  • Multiple job holders

  • Contingent and part-time workers

  • Highly skilled contractors

  • Seasonal workers

  • Consultants

It does in fact depend on personal interpretation, there is no right or wrong answer to what a gig worker is.

Gig economy workers sometimes treat their “gigs” as their main source of income, some as a secondary source of revenue. Some of them are highly skilled and this mode of work is their choice, some are unskilled and chose to supplement their wages, however some due to circumstance have no alternative and the gig environment becomes a necessity.

Growing up in the North East of England, a significant number of taxi drivers tended to be from a migrant background where I grew up. If we turned back the clock to the late nineties (and without the ride-share industry) it would be fair to highlight theses workers as gig workers, in fact we can go back to the days of horse drawn cartridges and the coachmen, who provided a similar service to the more wealthy at that time. My point is this, the only thing that has changed is the way that we now engage. In the 1800’s it would be done through word of mouth and by “gentleman’s agreement” to provide the service, in the 1990’s it was either by waiting at a taxi rank in the rain and snow or calling one from a landline, now we have a wider choice and multiple avenues to book and pay for them.

Safety in the Gig space

There is an ever growing and greying area or idea, when it comes to a transient workforce. As/or when I am acting as a consultant, I hold Professional Indemnity, Public Liability, Workers Compensation and Private Vehicle Insurance. I am also responsible for things like providing Criminal Record Checks and an ASIC (Aviation Security Identification) card. By the same token, my drivers’ licence is my responsibility (to ensure that it is valid and current) all at my cost. So, should the question become: “What should be the minimum that we expect from gig workers?”

If you are a builder here in Australia, the safety of your workers is your responsibility, this is also extended to any other PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) or as it is known anywhere else in the world; contractors and subcontractors, your duty also extends to members of the public, volunteers and so on, in fact any touch point realistically you have a duty to.

However, when you dive into the world of “Gig” is the same mandated duty there and what can be done?

We all know to drive Ride-share, you must have a driving licence and a vehicle, and that some ride-share operators now insist that the vehicle is fit for purpose must be assessed by an independent and qualified person. But is there anything else? Businesses like UBER have some form of overarching insurance cover that is provided to the driver and covers passengers, but how effective is that? The answer I do not know, and there is very little information that I have been able to review or obtain around the success of this insurance. At least with a registered Taxi or Hire Car, these businesses need to have adequate levels of insurance and are subjected to licencing agreements and arrangements, here in Australia, that is managed by each state or territory – I am not saying I prefer one over the other, however I will say this, the idea of having a drivers Taxi ID visible has always been a positive and, I will acknowledge that with some Ride-share businesses, you can get the same or similar information via their app, but somehow it doesn’t feel quite the same.

However it now seems that the little widow stickers that is in place over millions of vehicles worldwide seems to give the driver an unexpected ability to pull over with very little warning, even if it is not safe to do so, and let their client out, and whilst this may break a number of road rules in a number of places, the argument can be formed that this is only what Taxi drivers do. Yes, a bit of a generalisation and not all drivers are made equally, however the point is a valid one I believe.

In the event of this occurring and it being witnessed by the local Police, fines and points are just some of the options to act as a further or future deterrent. And who is responsible ultimately in the event of a driver losing their licence and operating the vehicle?

Back in 2011/12, this very issue came up with a business that I was working with, an incident occurred, and it came to light that the driver of a vehicle had lost their licence due to collecting points like Usain Bolt collected Gold Medals.

Ultimately the driver was responsible for their fines and loss of licence, yet HR said that it was the drivers responsibility to notify the business that they had lost their licence, the Union representing the driver stated that it was the Businesses responsibility to request the driver to provide details, not the responsibility of the worker, and the circus rolled on.

I actually do not know what happened in this instance, NDA’s were signed and no communications were further distributed, however I will say this, everyone who is a road user, has a legal and a moral obligation to do the right thing, yet time and time again we see the result of poor judgement, bad decisions and a blatant disregard for the law, that ultimately costs lives.

The same can be said of Health and Safety, on the whole individuals will tend to do the right thing, some people will cut corners and take short cuts, not knowing or fully anticipating their actions may cause harm, some will break the rules and have a general disregard and you will never stop them acting in that way.

For me this is why “Vision Zero” works as a concept (and yes, I agree that it is not perfect!) and “Zero Harm” or “Safety Differently” doesn’t work.

Quite simply put “Vision Zero” is aspirational, it set the vision as Zero, it’s a moving target, a goal that can be strived for, and we may never get there however we can do all in our power to try and achieve it. “Zero Harm” set the target and often lead to mass manipulation of data to show success rather than setting out to achieve it, as to where “Safety Differently” makes you believe that we don’t need lag indicators and that every time there is a breach or flouting of the rules there was something else behind it other than that individual intentionally doing the wrong thing. We go back to the point of the Police handing out speeding fine etc. by Safety Differently logic it was someone else’s fault.)

On Your BIKE!

Delivery of food has become a significant talking point over recent months especially with Covid, but an un-licenced and un-registered and un-insured cyclist darting in and out of traffic, up onto the footpaths becomes a significant issue.

In an industry that is driven by consumer want and power, are we enabling “gig” workers to take unnecessary risk and what is an acceptable risk? Are these individuals driven to cut corners due to the nature of the work and “Five Star” review mentality, or can the wider organisations that enable restaurants and alike to seen their products via the cyclist play a bigger part?

If we look at the facts, to drive a vehicle (of any sort on the road) we need licences and insurances and in many cases, we need to ensure that the vehicle is safe and fit for purpose.

When you sign up to be a driver in a ride-share environment, Licence, Passport, Visa’s, Police Checks are a minimum, along with vehicle registration documents, any vehicle insurance and inspection reports are the minimum. And yes, this still needs to be checked, how the ride-share businesses do this I do not know; however I will say this, my experience in setting up contractor management systems means that I have seen the gap in this sort of system firsthand, and in my opinion there will always need to be some form of human due diligence around this, however what about the cyclists?

When looking into this side of the industry, I used the Deliveroo website, which states:

“Things you will need: A scooter, motorbike, bicycle or car with the necessary safety equipment. A smartphone – iPhone (iOS 11 and above) or Android (6.0 and above), A valid ABN and the right to work in Australia, A valid insurance policy for your motorbike, scooter or car”

By selecting to be a Cyclist or eBike delivery rider, no insurance is needed, no professional indemnity, public liability, workers compensation etc.

Licence and Registration?

Whilst I acknowledge this will be a polarising point and the lycra and spandex clad road worriers will not appreciate this, I honestly believe that anyone who wishes to use a road must be expected to adhere to the road rules and should have a short form licence plate visible and hold some form of insurance, there is a strong argument that some form of competency needs to brought in for cyclists as well.

This isn’t an attempt to remove cyclists from the road, it is about holding them to the same standard that other road users are required to meet and with Dashcams becoming more and more prevalent why should cyclists not be identifiable?

I will acknowledge the “Deliveroo Safety Video: Road Rules: bicycle general” video that is on YouTube, (all five minuets and seconds of it is a start) however I believe that cyclists, like all road users break the rules constantly, yet seem to get away with it more.

So how do we keep our workers safe?

With the harmonised (and un-harmonised) safety legislation here in Australia having been rolled out at the start of 2012, the regulatory position is very different to the position which applied in the late 1990s. If your business or organisation uses contractors (whether in the gig economy, or otherwise) to perform work, it is vital to ensure that:

  1. The people with ultimate control of the work understand that there are contractors in the workforce;

  2. The contractors understand that both they, and the organisation which engages them, have safety obligations in relation to the performance of work; and

  3. There are procedures in place to ensure that all parties with safety duties can consult, co-operate and coordinate activities in relation to safety matters.

Gig workers effectively need to be treated the same way as we treat contractors, sub-contractors or service providers, expectations need to be set and gig partners need to be part of that conversation.

Inductions, verifications of competencies, insurance all form part of the story, and in industry where some individuals have died for a five star review do we as service users need to manage our expectations around a “service now” mentality?

Should businesses rethink the strategy and unique selling point of “delivery in 30 minutes or your food free” if this could lead to a serious injury or incident or the loss of a life? and rather than creating additional legislative requirements, does a widening and a levelling of the playing fields need to occur.

Our society is now driven by a cheaper/faster mentality, and I believe that in the gig economy this could be troublesome, however if businesses extend their safety systems to their contractors and gig workers, enabling them to see “what good looks like” and through the principals of knowledge sharing and best practice, could we turn the tide and make the ride (especially for cyclists) safer and more productive, whilst reducing our collective carbon footprint?

Do we need a change and reset when we consider #gigeconomy workers and their #safety ? What part should businesses who engage #gig workers play? and, should #gigworkers be expected to have insurance like #soletraders and #consultants? Are the rules fair or weighted to enable a #iwantitnow #ondemand #culture that we currently live in? Here are my thought on the #gigenvironment #safetyhashtag#ohs #whs #thoughts #gig #riskmanagement

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