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Managing work health and safety obligations for on-hire employees

When you think about the employment relationships involved in on-hire arrangements, it's easy to see how work health and safety duties could slip between the cracks. 

For instance, if an organisation engages a labour firm to supply workers for some of its roles, the on-hire agency has responsibility for the workers' employment. Therefore, is it obligated to ensure those individuals have safe, healthy working conditions? 

But what about the fact that labour hire firms send their workers away to host organisations' premises? The employees will be using the host company's tools, following its instructions, working with its staff and walking around its site. For that reason, shouldn't the host organisation have the primary duty of care? 

The answer is 'yes' to both. Revised model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws make it clear that both parties share responsibilities for contractors. So what does that mean for the on-hire industry? 

On-hire workers 

In Australia, you'll find on-hire workers in just about every industry, from education to project management and everything in between. Rather than directly hire an employee, host organisations employ a labour firm (also called on-hire agency, service provider and so on) to place one of their workers in a role. These individuals are then known as contractors or on-hire workers.

Although the worker goes to the host organisation's office or site to perform the tasks, he or she remains employed by the labour firm, and usually gets paid by that entity. The on-hire arrangement can be full-time or casual and may vary in terms of superannuation, taxation, insurance and other employment rights. 

Shared obligations 

The revised model WHS laws, which apply to all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia, clarified that on-hire workers are included in the requirements. It also made clear that both the on-hire firm and the host organisation are considered persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and therefore both retain duties of care towards these workers.   

Even though Western Australia and Victoria don't follow the model WHS laws, their own legislation reflects similar stances on the shared obligations of all parties involved. Importantly, these organisations are all expected to cooperate, coordinate and collaborate to ensure workers understand risks and best practices while also taking measures to make the working environment as safe and healthy as reasonably practicable. 

What on-hire firms can do 

Because on-hire firms send their employees to other organisations' sites for jobs or arrange for them to work from home, it may seem difficult for them to play an active role in securing their workers' health and safety. 

The legislation doesn't prescribe specific actions that these enterprises need to take, but there are a number of considerations to keep in mind. WorkPro's free e-book, Work Health & Safety for Contractors in On-Hire, provides a number of tips for labour firms to keep in mind so they can develop a strategic, proactive approach to managing and monitoring WHS for their employees.  

These steps include efforts such as: 

  • Fully understanding the industry, host organisation and specific scope of the job 
  • Conducting site assessments at the client's premises 
  • Carrying out online induction and WHS training with employees before sending them to a client 
  • Having workers report on site conditions 
  • Communicating with the worker and the client throughout the engagement, especially with regard to any scope changes  
  • Identify any risks and ways to mitigate them, taking action so far as reasonably practicable 

Overall, the key to managing this shared responsibility is for the organisations involved to consult one another, cooperate and coordinate, making safety for all workers (on-hire and regular) a key priority.

For additional information about what the WHS laws mean for the on-hire industry and how firms can proactively manage and monitor the health and safety of their employees, download WorkPro's free Contractors in On-Hire e-book. 

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