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Platform workers face stress and uncertainty

23 May 2024

MORE THAN half of platform workers in the gig economy say their unpredictable income causes financial struggles while their irregular working patterns mean they have difficulty caring for dependants or taking holidays, a new survey reveals.

Results from the survey, commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), also show that two in five platform workers say they have experienced stress caused or made worse by their work in the past year, with a third complaining of tiredness or exhaustion.

IOSH has revealed the results as it publishes a new report which highlights the uncertain future facing workers. Towards a safe and healthy future of work explores how advances in technology, climate change and adaptations to ways of working potentially pose risks to workers’ health, safety and wellbeing.

The report, published jointly with sustainable development experts Arup, looks at how the world of work is set to change in the coming years. With an estimated 7,500 people dying every day from unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, the report poses a number of ‘what-if’ questions designed to highlight to governments, businesses and the health and safety profession that IOSH represents how action is required to ensure people are protected in and out of work.

The rise of the gig economy, which includes platform-based work ranging from delivery jobs to freelance tasks on specific projects, is highlighted, with a question posed on whether it could overtake secure employment as the most common source of primary income, leading to fewer social protections for workers. It goes on to say that decades-old primary legislation based on traditional employment models doesn’t address many health and safety risks associated with gig work.

Of the 1,000 platform workers who responded to the survey, conducted by Opinium, 58 per cent said working for an online platform resulted in them having unpredictable income, making it difficult to pay bills, with the same number saying it causes difficulty caring for dependants including children and elderly relatives. Meanwhile, 63 per cent say it impacts their ability to take holidays and 54 per cent say they have low levels of job security. 

The new report also questions whether advances in technology could create new health, safety and wellbeing risks, and also asks if monitoring devices could alert bosses to a worker’s health condition before they know about it.

With this and other issues, there is a clear need for strong, robust and modern health and safety regulation which takes account of the changing world of work, says IOSH. But the report also asks whether the drive for deregulation in countries including the UK actually risks weakening health and safety standards.

With these and more risks in mind, the report makes a number of calls to action. Its calls include for:

  • governments to ratify the International Labour Organization conventions relating to health and safety, to protect and preserve human rights, decent work and worker protection in the face of new and emerging hazards, and to review and update regulations to ensure health and safety risks are addressed; 
  • businesses to support sustainable development and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to identify and address existing and emerging health and safety risks, and to include health and safety management in organisational strategies;
  • and the health and safety profession to contribute and support the implementation of sustainable work practices, to argue for health and safety to be a central consideration in the development of new technologies, and to ensure it keeps up to date with changes to be able to continue to advise businesses.

IOSH itself also pledges to work with other global bodies in the drive for social sustainability, to commission and share research on health and safety matters, and to support its profession in managing new and emerging risks.

Ruth Wilkinson CMIOSH, head of policy and public affairs at IOSH said, “We face the future with a real sense of excitement and opportunity, but also with caution and uncertainty. What we know for certain is that the world of work will continue to change, but we don’t know for sure how this will play out and evolve.

“Our report highlights this, focusing on how new technologies and digitalisation are creating opportunities to improve how people are protected at work but also showing that this can create new hazards and risks to health and safety, all of which need to be managed.

“Among the changes that have already happened is a rise in gig work. To explore these findings further, the results of our survey show people working in the gig economy are really struggling, which is of real concern and requires action.

“This action needs to be collective. We need to work together as a profession with governments, businesses and other professions to manage the changes to work carefully, to design, consult upon, risk assess, and implement new technologies sensibly and, crucially, to ensure that people can go home from work safe and well every day.”

James Pomeroy CMIOSH, global health and safety director at Arup said, “This is a transformational point in time for our industry, filled with challenge and opportunity in equal measure. We know that we will experience climate change as a health and safety issue, with the stability of our environments subject to change. 

Towards a safe and healthy future of work offers landmark guidance regarding how we can better navigate the landscape we operate in, prioritising risk mitigation by further integrating technologies. It has been a privilege to be part of such hugely important research that can serve to be fundamental in accelerating the use of digitalisation in the space.”