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Six steps to protect seasonal workers during the festive season

AuthorsLachlan NisbetHannah Hobson

Six steps to protect seasonal workers during the festive season

This season, retailers and businesses across all sectors will hire gig economy, agency and temporary workers to help with the Christmas rush. Taking on new workers for short periods poses risks and employers must understand their duties and responsibilities to ensure a safe working environment.

Here, Partner and Head of Regulatory & Professional Conduct Lachlan Nisbet and Solicitor Hannah Hobson outline employer obligations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA 1974) including six steps to protect workers.


Your duties and responsibilities as a duty holder

Businesses and retailers in particular often hire new staff to provide extra resource during the busy festive season. Reuters reported that Tesco intends to recruit 30,000 additional staff, Sainsburys expects to secure 22,000 more workers and Marks & Spencer is hiring 10,000 workers for Christmas 2023.

When businesses welcome a huge influx of new workers in this way the risk of accidents occurring increases. This can be due to the inexperience of new workers and a reluctance to ask for help or raise concerns.

Under Sections 2 and 3 of HSWA 1974, an employer must ensure that employees and persons not in their employment are not exposed to risks that impact their health or safety — so far as is reasonably practicable. Therefore, a worker may only work for a business on a short-term basis but their health, safety and wellbeing are always protected by the law.


How to prepare for new agency, gig or temporary workers — six key steps

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out guidance for companies that are hiring new workers. The guidance highlights the importance of ensuring new workers are properly trained and equipped at the outset because the risk of an accident occurring is greater in the first six months at work.

From this guidance, there are six key steps to remember:

  1. Assess the new worker’s capabilities including previous experience, physical ability to perform the job, general health and literacy and numeracy levels.
  2. Provide a full and comprehensive induction, including a tour of the workplace to identify hazards.
  3. Ensure that health and safety control measures are fit for purpose, up to date and properly implemented.
  4. Provide information, instruction and training about risks and precautions.
  5. Provide adequate supervision and ensure workers are aware of how to raise concerns.
  6. Ensure workers understand the information, instructions and training provided. Workers must know who they can contact, who they can share concerns with and be aware of the emergency procedures.

It’s important to remember that a breach of health and safety law arises when there is an inadequately controlled risk of harm — even if no actual harm has occurred.

Failure to comply with your health and safety obligations may result in the HSE prosecuting your company.


Recent HSE prosecutions involving agency workers

In 2023, the HSE has successfully prosecuted companies where incidents involved agency workers or concerned procedures for agency workers, for example:


VN Labs Limited

On 16 June 2023, VN Labs Limited a vape liquid manufacturer pleaded guilty to breaches of Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of HSWA 1974 and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,490.05.

The prosecution arose after an agency worker’s hand was sliced by a blade while they were removing a blockage from a nicotine liquid pod packaging machine. The agency worker sustained life-changing injuries as two of their fingers were amputated.

The HSE’s investigation revealed that the company had installed its own guarding on the machine but there were several health and safety failures. Despite the guarding, there was still access to dangerous parts of the machine and no safe system in place for removing blockages. More than this, there were no formal written risk assessments for the machine and no supervision of its working processes.


Chelmsford City Council

On 16 June 2023, Chelmsford City Council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) and 3 (1) of HSWA 1974 and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs totalling £61,065.

An investigation was undertaken by the HSE after a loader operator was fatally hit by a bin lorry that was in the process of reversing down a road.

The HSE’s investigation revealed that the risks associated with moving refuse vehicles had not been properly managed. The Council had failed to provide instruction and training for agency workers on safe procedures for reversing and using hand signals and failed to monitor working practices.

A HSE inspector warned — “Local authorities and companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to hold to account those that fall below the required standards”.

These cases should act as a reminder that the HSE will not hesitate to prosecute where breaches of health and safety responsibilities are found — regardless of whether incidents involve employees or other temporary, gig or agency workers.


Talk to us

Businesses must ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, gig, agency or temporary workers are protected at all times. Where a business requires additional support from agency or temporary workers during the busy festive period, we recommend that it consults the HSE’s guidance and ensures its policies and procedures are compliant.  

If you need any help in reviewing your health and safety arrangements, our expert health and safety law team can help.

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