Health and safety for gig economy, agency and temporary workers

2. Definitions

Agency workers

This term commonly refers to individuals who are supplied by an employment agency to work for another employer (the 'end user' or 'principal'). 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 worker's 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.


If there is a contract between a worker and a business, and the business exercises significant control over that worker, there may be an employment relationship between the worker and the business during actual working hours, even if there is no contract outside actual working hours.

In this situation, the business will have the same health and safety duties towards such workers as it has towards its other employees.

For more information on employment status, visit Enforcement - Specific categories of workers.

Employment agency

This is the business of providing services (by providing information or otherwise) for finding people employment with employers or of supplying employers with people for employment by them.

The definition applies whether or not the employment agency is run with a view to profit or in conjunction with any other business.

Employment business

This is the business of supplying people employed by the person conducting the business, to act for, and under the control of, other people in any capacity.

The definition applies whether or not the employment business is run with a view to profit or in conjunction with any other business.

End user business

The business that the worker is doing the job for, whether a short-term temporary, or longer-term arrangement. They will control the day-to-day work and may control the workplace.

Gig economy workers

Gig economy work is mainly characterised by short-term working relationships. It can be non-standard, casual, unpredictable, irregular and temporary.

Gig economy workers have some potential to exercise flexibility around the work they commit to and when it is performed. However, the online platforms also have potential to impose degrees of control over how gig economy workers perform their work.

Limb (b) workers

A 'limb (b) worker' can be understood as a 'dependent contractor'. A 'worker' is registered as self-employed but provides a service as part of someone else's business. They generally must carry out the work personally, rather than being able to send someone in their place.


Under health and safety law, self-employed refers to workers that do not work under a contract of employment and work only for themselves. The self-employed have health and safety responsibilities for both themselves and anyone who is affected by their work.

Temporary employees

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 festive 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.

Temporary workers

There is no single, clear-cut definition of a temporary worker as there are often a number of different intermediaries involved, including the following situations:

  • 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 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 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 which 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
Updated 2022-01-14