UK: Gig Economy Exposing Drivers to High Safety Risks

The work pressures associated with being a self-employed courier or taxi driver may significantly increase the risk of being involved in a traffic collision, according to a new study.

The University College London study included in-depth interviews with drivers, riders and their managers, and analysed 200 responses from drivers and riders from a range of companies and industries.

  • 63 per cent of of respondents said they were not provided with any safety training on managing road risks
  • 65 per cent said they were not given any safety equipment such as a high visibility vest, and over 70 per cent have resorted to providing their own
  • 42 per cent said their vehicle had been damaged in a collision while working, and a further 10 per cent said someone had been injured
  • 40 per cent of drivers said using an app while driving was distracting
  • Only 25 per cent of drivers and riders believed their company cared about their safety at work

UCL researcher Heather Ward said the findings highlighted the fact that the popularity of gig work for couriers was leading to an increase in health and safety risk factors.

“As more workers enter the economy and competition rises, the number of hours they need to work and distances they must travel to earn a stable income both increase. We know this is an issue but don’t know exactly how far it extends as not all companies need to report the number of self-employed couriers they use to the government.”

GMB, Britain’s general union, echoed the findings of the report and called on the government to introduce legislation that would enhance driver and public safety - the same laws which exist for those working in the more traditional employment models.

GMB national officer Mick Rix said the damning conclusions of the report back up what GMB has been saying for years, that "gig economy employers, particularly courier companies, are exposing delivery drivers, riders, and the general to unacceptable risks to their health and safety."

“Companies such as Amazon and their delivery firms have passed all the risk and responsibilities to drivers, and are avoiding their employer responsibilities and public safety obligations."

“They are washing their hands of growing public safety issue in pursuit of greater profits."

The UCL report makes a number of recommendations for companies that use self-employed drivers and couriers to limit their work pressure. These include:

  • Introducing time blocks for couriers to sign up and be paid for, rather than a drop rate
  • If used, drop rates should take into account the time needed to travel within the speed limit and perform administrative duties such as scanning parcels and obtaining signatures

UCL Professor Dr Nicola Christie said the UK traditionally had a good road safety record, but de-regulation over the last few years has left self-employed couriers and taxi drivers at an increased risk of exploitation.

"The Health and Safety Executive has regulations on safety at work, but these don’t apply to those whose work takes place on public highways. I hope to see the recommendations in this report taken on board by the Department for Transport and incorporated into health and safety regulations as the gig economy is set to continue to increase.”



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