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A Safety Net for the Sharing Economy


By Angelique Stagg

The sharing economy has hit big time: PwC estimates that revenue could hit $335 billion by 2025. Part of its success can be attributed to the reliance on contractors, who possess ultimate freedom in their job: flexible hours, ownership over the tools of their trade and working at their own pace. However, this freedom has introduced new issues for global employers, including ever-changing safety concerns in various regions.

Many sharing economy companies today (rides, lodging and shipping, to name a few) are thriving: They have harnessed the power of sharing and created an innovative and successful business model that leverages the advantages of a minimalist employee and liability structure. But, just like traditional businesses, the sharing economy needs its workforce to be safe and compliant to be sustainably successful.

Enabling this boom is a workforce comprised primarily of contractors – a business model allowing for worker freedom and flexibility, but a model that also creates a sharing of liability between the contract employees and the corporate owner. This has been the status quo for sharing economy companies for years, and so far it’s working well.

Below are a few tips that the sharing economy should consider discussing with their human resources or environment, health and safety managers (EHS) at their company:

Learn to navigate the sharing economy

Although flexibility is at the heart of the sharing economy, this increasingly popular business model introduces new concerns. Contractors are often responsible for their own assets, training, and personal and customer safety and benefits.

The distinct gap between corporate and contractor responsibility creates a distinct divide between a well-informed and safety-focused company and a potentially naïve contractor workforce. This gap could create a divide in company culture fueling a damaging relationships among contractor, company and customer. The end result can be a segmented workforce lacking an inclusive and effective safety culture. Contractors may feel exposed and at risk by employers forgetting to protect them, and customers may see the end result without understanding the shared responsibilities between the employer and the contractor.

For both the contractor and the company, managing health and safety priorities can be tricky. It may be hard to identify exactly who is responsible for providing health and safety training, conducting risk assessments, and identifying and implementing appropriate control measures to protect workers and customers.

Adding a layer of complexity for fast-growing companies expanding into new countries, compliance regulations for worker safety change from country to country. In much of the developed world, companies have a duty to care for their employees and contractors. Whereas in many developing countries, no such provision exists or if present, are not uniformly enforced.

In Brazil, for example, a company employing a contractor is responsible for the health and well-being of that contractor, while the same contractor working for the same company in Bangladesh may receive little in the form of corporate health and safety training and guidance. Although U.S. companies are beginning to take health and safety in low-risk, high-tech settings more seriously, the corporate focus remains on managing growth and meeting demand.

If health and safety needs are not being addressed at your company while a competitor is using strong health and safety programs as a sales (recruiting?) technique, your company will likely lose out on top talent (like you!). And if safety incidents are regularly happening at your company regardless of a primarily contractor workforce, your company’s brand and reputation will suffer, and customers will shy away – meaning less money for you.

4 tips for building your safety net

1. Be a safety hero

Work with your HR or EHS manager to understand what environmental, health and safety guidelines you and they should be following to make sure you’re protected. You may be surprised to learn that many companies reward and recognize employees committed to safety; it’s an integral step toward dissolving the “Us vs. Them” mentality between corporate and contractor. Look into whether or not your company offers an employee-of-the-week program to recognize individuals who are exhibiting positive behaviors. It can’t hurt!

2. Support compliance readiness

Global and domestic expansion are often marques of a sharing economy company’s success and leaders need to be aware of changing compliance regulations across geographies as they expand. If you’re working in a new area or city, it helps to understand what these regulations are before working in new geographies to avoid putting yourself in danger. Having safe and happy regional workers and customers positively impacts the global brand.

3. Advocate for safety training
Beyond normal training or onboarding procedures, ensure you’ve integrated safety into your everyday life. It’s important for contractors to be attuned to potential hazards and liability issues to avoid succumbing to health or safety hazards. Encourage a culture of safety in your company by asking about a formalized training program for all contractors across all geographies – taking into account differing regulatory demands.

4. Address necessities

Identify your needs versus wants as a contractor and as a company as well as customer expectations to deliver the best service you can and can come in the form of training, benefits and other services. Perhaps there’s a formal suggestion box or ask about creating a company-wide survey to identify and prioritize fixes for pain points. By communicating with HR and EHS managers about specific needs, you’ll stay ahead and play a key role in the future success of your company as well as keep your satisfaction high.

Image credit: Flickr/MotorBlog

Angelique Stagg is a global environment, health and safety (EHS) professional with Antea Group with over 20 years of management and leadership experience focused on helping clients enhance their competitive advantage through innovative solutions for environmental, health and safety challenges.

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