Working with independent contractors on occupational health and safety

Working with independent contractors on occupational health and safety

Work Health and Safety Training - 10/04/2015

When you hire an independent contractor to complete work for your organisation, do you 'outsource' your obligations to comply with work health and safety regulations? The short answer is no.

Although contracted individuals aren't technically 'employees' under an employment contract with the host enterprise, revised model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws make clear that both the contractors and the company that hires them share in the responsibility to provide safe, healthy working conditions.

Independent contractors

Even though the percentage of independent contractors in the Australian workforce has declined over the past few years. the category still represents a significant proportion of employed persons. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics*, 22.4 per cent of male and 12.9 per cent of female workers were independent contractors as of November 2013.

Additionally, while a recent study showed about one-third of Australians under the age of 30 are engaged in some form of freelancing, only 35 per cent of freelancers are classified as independent contractors, The Guardian reported**.

Shared obligations

According to the revised model WHS law, independent contractors are considered both workers and persons conducting a business or undertaking. Therefore, they share obligations with the companies that hire them to uphold WHS requirements. Independent contractors are also responsible towards their own employees and must provide for their work health and safety.

WHS laws vary by state, but even Victoria and Western Australia – which have not adopted the model WHS law – do not recognise attempts to transfer health and safety duties to contracted parties. 

As a whole, all parties must communicate and cooperate to ensure the site remains safe and workers receive the occupational health and safety training they need. That means contractors, in their role as workers, must comply with policies and take reasonable care for their own health and that of those around them.

For additional information about how independent contractors are addressed in the model WHS law and for tips on managing health and safety obligations, download WorkPro's free e-book on Independent Contracting.

*Australian Bureau of Statistics, "Gender Indicators, Australia, February 2015".

**The Guardian, "The casualisation of Australia's workforce is nothing to panic about".

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