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Removing health and safety responsibilities for recruitment agencies and businesses

Comment 25th August 2010

Currently, under Gangmasters Licencing Act (2004) and the Conduct of Employment Agencies Act, recruitment businesses are obliged to check with hirers about health and safety risks to the temporary worker and what has been done to minimise these risks.

To a larger extent, the Gangmasters Act goes even further indicating that recruitment businesses should assess the hirer's health and safety policies, risk assessments, etc., to satisfy themselves that the hirer is providing suitable (health & safety) conditions for any temporary worker(s).

Recruitment businesses/agencies are themselves subject to health and safety legislation (just like all other qualifying businesses/organisations).  Recruitment businesses (just like all other qualifying businesses/organisations) for their own internal employees, have to have a health and safety policy statement and risk assessments for the work that is conducted as part of its' business activities.

As such, this means that agencies not only have to be capable to adhere to the above health and safety requirements for their own business BUT also have to be able to assess and check the health and safety policies and risk assessments of a wide range of hirer businesses/sectors/jobs to satisfy themselves prior to supplying the temporary worker. 

The types of businesses that a recruitment business could deal with can be extremely diverse!  It is impossible for the recruitment agency, in a commercial world, to be expert on all the different health and safety requirements for the different jobs in the different industry sectors.

To make matters worse, recruitment businesses are then subject to having to acquire these documents and then print/copy and then issue and explain these documents to temporary workers prior to them going out on assignment!

Normally all hirers go through all this information with their own staff, contractors and temporary workers as a matter of precaution and good practice (and for some as part of their health and safety policy).  So when recruitment businesses ask for this information and then scrutinise it and then want to give copies to temporary workers and explain it to them, hirers complain of duplication and causing them additional work.

This is also a complaint of temporary workers and equally of recruitment businesses (the ones who bother to comply in a industry where no-one is policing the matter!).  So why do we do it?  Because its the law!  In a recent experiment, we contacted the main recruitment agencies in Cumbria and South West Scotland to ask for a temporary worker.  None of the agencies (10 asked) asked for any information in repsect of health and safety!

Any professional recruiter will have a terms of business contract with the hirer which includes a clause stating the hirer should manage the temporary worker as if she/he were a member of their own staff.  Recruitment businesses have no control over the work environment of the hirer whatsoever, so why involve the recruiter in taking responsibility for something it cannot control???

Our idea is, that being employers are responsible for health and safety for their own businesses anyway and that recruitment businesses cannot change/influence/be responsible for a third party hirers' health and safety, then the government should make a simple clear ruling that all businesses in the UK should be responsible for health and safety for temporary workers they hire.

Why does this matter?

The idea is important because: –

  1. Recruitment businesses that comply with the legislation are facing an uncompetitive amount of additional work against the ones (the majority of recruiters) that do not comply – resulting in lower profitablity or worse
  2. Recruitment businesses that comply with the legislation lose business from hirers who will opt to go with the recruitment business that is not giving them extra work to supply the health and safety information – resulting in lower profitablity or worse
  3. It will be clear to temporary workers, hirers and employment businesses who is responsible should an accident happen at work – at the moment the temporary worker could sue either the recruitment business and / or the hirer!
  4. It will make the people who should be responsible for their business/organisation responsible for it
  5. It will save time for hirers, recruitment businesses and temporary workers as the health and safety compliance work will not be duplicated.
  6. It will make business simpler and less legislated in an over-legislated coutry.
  7. It will free up business time to get on with the business of making money which results in more taxes being collected for the government
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