Health and safety for agency/temporary workers
This guidance will help users and suppliers of agency/temporary workers and agency/temporary workers understand their health and safety responsibilities.
In this guidance "employment agency" means the business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit and whether or not carried on in conjunction with any other business) of providing services (whether by the provision of information or otherwise) for the purpose of finding persons employment with employers or of supplying employers with persons for employment by them.
An "employment business" means the business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit and whether or not carried on in conjunction with any other business) of supplying persons in the employment of the person carrying on the business, to act for, and under the control of, other persons in any capacity.
A business might recruit workers directly for short periods of time without using a third party agency. This could include taking on additional retail staff during busy summer or Christmas periods, or taking on administrative staff to meet short term increases in work. In such cases the recruited worker is an employee, and the business is their employer and has responsibility for their health and safety in the same way as for all their employees.
This term commonly refers to an individual who is supplied by an employment agency to work for another (the ‘end user’/ ‘principle’). In this case the employment agency is a recruitment agency and once they have introduced the worker to an employer the relationship between the worker and the agency ends. The employer has responsibility for the workers health and safety in the same way as for any employee.
If an employment business places a worker for short periods of work with an employer (end user) but the worker remains under a contractual relationship with the employment business, then the guidance for temporary workers applies.
There is no single, clear cut definition of a temporary worker as there are often a number of different intermediaries involved, including:
- A temporary worker is an employee of the employment business. The employment business has a contractual obligation to assign them work and supplies the temporary worker for a period of time to another business (end user).
- A temporary worker is not the employee of the employment business, there is no obligation to find the worker a job or for the worker to take a job. The worker only gets paid if work is assigned.
- A temporary worker who has a contractual relationship with a company that acts as an intermediary between the worker and the end user, (usually known as an umbrella or limited company) and is supplied by the employment business through that umbrella or limited company to work for another business (end user).
- A temporary worker who has a contractual relationship with an umbrella or limited company and that company supplies them to an employment business who then supplies the worker to another business (end user) via a master or neutral vendor. A master vendor is an agency appointed by the end user to manage its recruitment process, appointing workers directly or using other recruitment agencies as necessary. A neutral vendor is a management company who does not supply workers directly but manages the overall recruitment process and supplies workers through others.
- An employment business acts as a master vendor and supplies the temporary worker to another business (end user) either directly or via other recruitment agencies (second tier suppliers). A number of different contractual arrangements run in tandem for supply to the same end user
For more information on employment status, including Agency workers and workers, see:
Guidance for Users and Suppliers of Agency/Temporary workers
In many cases the employment business will be the employer of the temporary worker, since it retains ultimate control over their services.
In practice, the day-to-day responsibility for health and safety during the assignment will lie with the end user. It will be in the best position to manage the health and safety of the temporary worker as it will direct the worker’s activities and control the premises where that work takes place. The end user must ensure the safety of its temporary workers, as it does that of its own employees.
The employment agency and the employment business however, must take reasonable steps to identify any known risks concerning health and safety and satisfy itself that the end user has taken steps to prevent or control the known risks. This must be done before the work starts and must include obtaining the following information from the end user:
- what the worker will be required to do and any health and safety risks, including what steps the end user has taken to prevent or control such risks;
- what experience, training and qualifications are necessary for the job.
Co-operation and communication between all those involved in using and supplying temporary workers is key to protecting their health and safety. Continuing to do so throughout the period of the assignment, including with the workers themselves, will help ensure that responsibilities are clear. It is important to agree who does what and not assume the ‘other side’ will take responsibility. This will mean working together to ensure you:
- provide the temporary worker with information on any risks of the work before the work starts, including the control measures in place and any health surveillance required;
- make workers aware of and check they have the necessary occupational qualifications or skills required to do the job safely before they start work;
- deliver adequate and sufficient information, instruction and training to enable temporary workers to work safely. Health and safety training should take place during working hours and at no cost to the temporary worker, making sure they understand it;
- provide protective equipment, at no cost to the temporary worker, agreeing arrangements for supplying and maintaining it;
- ensure temporary workers know how to raise any health and safety concerns in the workplace.
If the end user provides the necessary information to the employment business, the employment business must pass it on to the worker. The employment business should not send the temporary worker to a job unless they are satisfied their health and safety will be protected.
All those involved should carry out their work in such a way as to ensure the temporary worker is not exposed to health and safety risks. This may mean obtaining appropriate assurance from others in the supply/user chain, or it may mean taking responsibility to ensure the temporary worker is protected at work
For basic health and safety information, see Health and Safety Made Simple.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Employees cannot be charged for provision of protective equipment that is required to do the job. This includes agency workers, if they are legally regarded as your employees. For temporary workers, in many cases the employment business would be the employer and would be responsible for ensuring any necessary protective equipment is provided.
Where a worker is not an employee, the duty to report an incident under RIDDOR is on the end user, as the person in control of the premises where an incident occurs.
For temporary workers who do not speak or understand English well or at all, our Migrant worker web site provides advice and guidance and can be translated in to other languages.
Guidance for Agency/Temporary Workers
All workers are entitled to work in an environment where the risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. If you are an agency or temporary worker then your health and safety is protected by law and employment businesses (agencies) have a duty to make sure that they follow it.
- You have a duty to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by your actions at work.
- You must co-operate with your employment business and the end user where you are working, including participating in any necessary health and safety training and instruction, which must be provided free of charge
- You must be told about any risks connected to the work, the control measures and the qualifications and skills needed to carry out the work safely
- You must be provided with personal protective equipment if it is necessary for protecting your health and safety. This should be made available to you free of charge, it must fit you properly and you must be trained to use it. It is your responsibility to use it in line with the training you receive, and to inform the person that provided the equipment if it is lost or damaged
- You are entitled to a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment if using a computer screen is a significant part of your job
- You should be told how to raise any concerns you have about your health and safety
For general information on workplace health and safety, see:
Your health your safety: A brief guide for workers