Agency workers' health and safety
What businesses, agencies and the workers themselves must do to protect agency workers' health and safety, how to work with the agency and assess risks
If you supply or use agency workers you need to be aware of your responsibilities for their health and safety.
Agency workers can face particular problems because, for example, they may not be familiar with the potential hazards in the business they are working in. The risks can be reduced through effective co-operation between the agency and the business. It is also important to follow good practice in areas such as risk assessment and communication.
Throughout this guide, we use 'agency workers' to mean people who obtain work through an employment business (referred to in this guidance as the 'agency').
Employment and user businesses in certain sectors such as agriculture must also comply with relevant licence conditions set by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Who is responsible for agency workers' health and safety?
When a business uses agency workers, the business and the agency have a shared duty to protect the health and safety of the agency workers.
Some health and safety duties depend on whether you are the employer. This is determined by the circumstances of each individual case. You should be aware that agency workers could be considered your employees for health and safety purposes even if they are not for the purposes of tax and National Insurance.
Agency workers might be employees of the agency, or employees of the business using them (in both cases, under a contract of employment), or (occasionally) self-employed/freelance. If you are the employer, you cannot transfer your health and safety responsibilities to another person or business.
It's vital for both the user business and the agency to agree at the start of a contract the practical arrangements for:
- day-to-day supervision
- direction and control of the work that agency workers will be doing
The Health and Safety Executive provide guidance on determining employment status.
Health and safety risk assessment for agency workers
Employers and agencies must include agency workers in risk assessments and both have certain responsibilities for carrying these risk assessments out
By law, businesses must ensure that they assess health and safety risks.
Businesses using agency workers
If agency workers are on your site (either under your direct employ or through another company), your assessment needs to take them into account. You should consider the special problems they may face. For example, they will know less about your business than ordinary employees, and so could be at greater risk.
Your health and safety risk assessment must take into account any special cases such as pregnant women, people who work alone or people who may not speak English as a first language.
You must also give the agency and agency workers information about risks and measures taken to control them before the start of the placement. See agency workers and health and safety information and training.
If you provide agency workers to other businesses, you also have responsibilities. You should ensure the user business has carried out an assessment and given you the findings, which you should pass on to agency workers.
You may also need to assess the risks facing workers before you place workers with that business. If the user business doesn't provide the information you need, you might decide to make a site visit to complete your own risk assessment.
This is more likely if you are providing workers for higher-risk industries such as construction, or where the risks are complex. If you are not competent to do the assessment yourself, you must arrange for someone else to do it for you.
You should also monitor user businesses' overall health and safety performance. For example, you could ask for copies of all accident and illness reports involving your agency workers, including the causes and what preventative measures they have implemented.
Co-operate to protect agency workers' health and safety
Shared responsibility for workers requires a co-ordinated approach to health and safety between the employment agency and the business using the workers
Responsibility for agency workers' health and safety is often shared regardless of where contractual duties lie. The business using the workers, the employment agency and the workers themselves can all have responsibilities. Co-operation is essential.
Co-operate for agency workers' safety from the start
From the start, every interested party must share information. For example, if the user business wants workers for a particular role, they should tell the agency health and safety risks, and any qualifications or skills needed to carry out the work safely.
This will help the agency put forward people with the right training, qualifications and experience. The agency should tell the user business about workers' skills and qualifications, to help decide what additional training the workers may need.
Sharing information with the workers themselves is also vital. See agency workers and health and safety information and training.
Ongoing co-operation for agency workers' safety
Continuing co-operation throughout placements will help ensure that responsibilities are clear. It also allows everyone involved to co-ordinate health and safety activities such as giving information, instruction, training and supervision. Nobody should just assume that someone else is taking care of it. For clarity, responsibilities should be spelt out in contractual arrangements. Remember that your legal responsibility as an employer cannot be passed on.
It's a good idea to regularly review the effectiveness of your arrangements. For example, the end of a work placement is a natural time to do this. You should try to identify any problems, and discuss the reasons for them. This will help you take steps to improve health and safety for the future.
Agency workers and health and safety information and training
Communication and instruction is essential for agency workers' health and safety, it is vital workers have the right training to safely carry out their jobs
Each new work placement poses health and safety risks. It's essential the business using the workers, the agency and the workers themselves share information to ensure health and safety is properly protected.
You should consider what health and safety information, instruction and training workers need (whether you are the user business or the agency). You should clarify who will provide it to meet the legal duties you both have under health and safety legislation.
User businesses have a duty to give proper instructions and clear information, both to the workers and the agency.
You should provide information about:
- risks agency workers may face when working in your business
- any special occupational skills or qualifications required
- health surveillance requirements
Agencies have the same duties if the workers are their employees. Additionally, the user business should tell the agency about any special features of the job that may affect agency workers' health and safety. The agency must pass this information on to the workers.
You should check that workers have understood training once it's been given and are continuing to follow procedures correctly.
Consulting with your workforce about safety
Consultation with your workforce is key to improving health and safety. Workers are more likely to work in a safe and healthy way if they have been involved in decisions about how risks at work are controlled.
Whether you are a business using agency workers or an agency, you are legally obliged to consult workers about health and safety if they are your employees.
It is good practice to consult workers who may not be your employees where the placement is long term. This should not in itself be seen as implying contractual obligations. Agency workers have the right to equal treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions after 12 weeks in a placement. See consult your employees on health and safety.
Even when agency workers are not legally your employees, it is good practice to consult and involve them. They need to feel 'part of the team'.
Provide agency workers with personal protective equipment
Businesses using agency workers must ensure that the workers have the same level of health and safety protection as ordinary employees.
Types of protective equipment
If user businesses provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing, agency workers should receive equivalent PPE if they are exposed to the same risks.
Agency workers who use computers and similar equipment with screens will need suitable workstations and rest breaks. Unless a worker is genuinely self-employed, both the user business and the agency have responsibilities. The employer is responsible for paying for eye and eyesight tests. See free eye tests for employees who use computers.
The more hazardous the work your business carries out, the more you need to do. There are specific requirements for certain work, including:
- the use of work equipment and machinery
- manual handling
- the use of electricity
- the comfort of the working environment
Who is responsible for proving PPE?
Legal responsibility for providing this free of charge lies with whoever is the worker's employer - this might be the agency or the user business. If you're not the employer, you may agree to provide what is necessary (whether you're a user business or an agency), but you cannot charge the worker for it.
In only a few cases, where workers are genuinely self-employed, will they be responsible for providing their own PPE. For more information, download the guide to PPE regulations (PDF, 143K) .
Businesses using agency workers and agencies themselves need to work together to ensure that the right equipment and facilities are provided and procedures are followed. See co-operate to protect agency workers' health and safety.
Monitor agency workers' health and safety
Health checks can be an important part of meeting your health and safety responsibilities, businesses and agencies can use checks to protect agency workers
Depending on your assessment of the risks, you may need to carry out health checks on employees (whether you are the user business or the agency). For example, you might need to do this if employees work with chemicals that can damage health. While health checks are not a substitute for controlling risks, they can help you tell whether your controls are working.
Businesses using agency workers
If you are the user business and you decide health checks are necessary, you may want to include agency workers even if they are not your employees. You should co-ordinate with the agency about this, and make sure that all parties are clear about who will provide it if it's required.
Don't forget that you need to give workers clear information about these health checks, too, whether they're your employees or those of the agency.
In some cases, you may decide that all that's needed is to check sickness records and reports of diseases. In other cases, you may need direct checks such as inspections for skin rashes.
If the agency workers you supply are your employees, you are responsible for any health checks needed.
Before placing workers with a user business, you need to check with the user business whether they will be doing work that requires health checks. If so, you'll need to get information from the user business about what's involved. You might be able to arrange for the user business to do the checks on your behalf - but you are still responsible for making sure they are done.
You may also need to organise some health checks yourself. For example, you might arrange annual medical check-ups for workers who are exposed to potentially serious health hazards, such as asbestos or radiation.
Agency workers can be injured or made ill at work. The user business and agency should clarify, before the placement, who is the 'responsible person' for any necessary RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) reports for agency workers. They should also ensure that all relevant information is exchanged so that RIDDOR forms can be completed in full. The responsible person should submit completed RIDDOR forms to the appropriate enforcing authority.