Casual Work Arrangements Impact Safety

Casual work arrangements

Substantial research has been undertaken by notable scholars on the issues of casual work arrangements and the erosion of workplace culture. Much of this research centres around working conditions for the employee who is placed in a position where they have a tenuous contract of employment, minimal voice and no clear path to career advancement.

In Australia, casual employment often leads to under-employment and job insecurity. Globally, casual and contracted work is fast becoming the new norm. This post discusses casual work arrangements, contractors and the impact on workplace safety and well-being.

Casual employment, under-employment and contractor working arrangements across the globe, and in Australia, have fast become the new normal. Decades of research have been reviewed by Quinlan and Bohle that draws a link between casual and temporary work and the impact on work health and safety.

Not only has ‘precarious’ employment – e.g. temporary, casual and short-term contract work arrangements – increased job insecurity for the individual worker, casual work arrangements have changed work processes and management behaviour. In their review of 86 studies on the impact of casual work arrangements on workplace safety, 85% found adverse effects.

Increased Presenteeism Caused by Fatigue

Several studies pointed to increased presenteeism by workers caused by fatigue of working additional hours, working while ill, risk-taking behaviour and the threat of layoff and under-reporting of incidents and injuries. There is evidence of presenteeism among surviving workers, who fear that reporting illness or taking sick leave could increase the likelihood of being targeted for future redundancy.

Casual employees may have an effect that leads to a diminishing of the working conditions of all workers.  There is evidence of increasing demands on permanent workers to complete a greater volume of work, or take on additional tasks and supervision.

Variable and unpredictable working hours in casual work arrangements has led to excessive casual hours in some weeks and very few in others. For casual workers, this has seen an increase in fatigue, sleep disturbance, disrupted exercise and dietary routines. Downsizing, causal and contracted employment may also be conducive to cutting corners on safety efforts by managers and workers to boost production/service delivery to safeguard their jobs.

See our short course on Fatigue Management that addresses the impact on worker mental health.

Casual Work Arrangements Erode Work Practices

Casual work arrangements in the construction and resources sectors are beginning to impact health and safety practices. Casual workers often lack experience and this is very evident when entering a new site where they may not have a contextual understanding of site requirements. Global safety events such as Deepwater Horizon illustrate the consequences of the lack of unity between contractors within an execution team.

There is evidence of:

  • A weakening of the safety induction, training, and supervisory regimens.
  • Interrupted formal and informal information flows among workers.
  • Difficulty in maintaining minimum labour standards, allocating employee/employer responsibility and monitoring and enforcing legislative requirements.

See our short course on The Role of a Civil Construction Supervisor, which places a focus on safety obligations.

High Costs to Business of Casual Work Arrangements

Business conditions, and an effort to reduce costs and maintain productivity, have resulted in downsizing across global firms. Downsizing generally requires staff to take on bigger workloads or a wider variety of tasks. However, downsizing also often leads to the use of causal work arrangements to ‘top-up’ and complete work on time.

Studies have indicated that for the majority of organisations undertaking downsizing, interestingly there has not been a measurable increase in productivity or financial performance. In many cases, it has been the complete opposite with a number of businesses turning to causal work arrangements that have seen an increase in costs and an overall lowering in productivity.

Employing full-time employees may not have had the same impact because as is often quoted in the field:

Managing internal staff is far easier than managing contractors! 

See our article, How Can You Best Manage Contractor Safety?

Casual Work Arrangements Should Top the Critical Risk List

First and foremost, the issue of effective training is paramount when using casual work arrangements. Business needs to ensure that casual and contractor workers are safe to undertake work on their sites.  The whole issue of training and ensuring awareness before they enter a site is more important than ever given there is often limited investment by the casual worker or contractor in the way they should work on site.  For permanent employees, their safety is at risk from workers on casual work arrangements and the revolving door of new workers on site.

This places a heavy burden on the safety induction process where a compliance ‘tick and flick’ process simply no longer cuts it. Over the past two decades, the safety induction has been eroded to a compliance exercise. It no longer serves the purpose that it was originally designed to do:

Ensure new workers are effectively trained in hazards and risks in the work place that they are about to enter.

Some workplaces spend days going through death by PowerPoint inductions using a huge number of slides, heavy in text and jargon, delivered in the classroom and/or online. Some have gone to the other extreme and cut down safety inductions to 10-minute multiple-choice and yes/no responses and instead rely on walk-through buddy training. Both of these options are costly in terms of time and effort.

Many are realising the importance of context, reliability and the literacy demands of new entrants and the significant importance of ensuring casual and contracted staff are prepared to work on their sites.

How Can Tap into Safety Help?

There is one solution that can help – Tap into Safety. Whether looking to deliver safety induction training in the classroom, online or using smart devices, a simple hyperlink integration is available to the Cloud-hosted software.

The platform also offers interactive and engaging safety, mental health and leadership training. The software has been designed to support workers with low literacy or minimal English language capabilities. The training uses real workplace photographic, panoramic examples that workers relate to because they show their work sites or typical examples of their work areas, rather than gifs and cartoons depicting workplace hazards e.g. manual handling examples of lifting a box in an office setting.

The training is delivered using interactive courses and microlearning formats and can be even be accessed by sub-contractors with their competencies verified before they step foot on site.  There is pre-built content with over 200 courses already available to simply upload and use immediately, along with custom-built content and professionally developed content if there are specific points of difference in your business.

You might be pleasantly surprised at the cost of the platform. Some businesses focus on specific injuries and incidents that are an issue within their operations, e.g. hand injuries. Others take a broader look at fatal risks.  If you’d like to know more please click through or try a free online demo.

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