OH&S and labour hire: The rewards, the risks

Labour hire, at first glance an eminent solution to skills shortage, can bring with it unwelcome and at times costly risks. By ANDREW DOUGLAS

By Andrew Douglas

Labour hire OH&S

Labour hire, at first glance an eminent solution to skills shortage, can bring with it unwelcome and at times costly risks.

I have a thirsty fish in me that can never find enough of what it’s thirsty forRumi, poet, 13th century.

Have you heard of the saying “the thirsty fish”? It refers to the paradoxical phenomenon of a creature who thirsts for more despite being surrounded by abundance – a thirst that cannot be slaked.

This is apt to refer to the drive of modern employers who seem to possess an unquenchable thirst for skilled employees, casual engagement and flexible arrangements.

These thirsty fish are hydrated by the ample offerings of labour hire firms, and more recently the flexibilities delivered by WorkChoices.

These thirsty fish thought OH&S could be contracted out to the labour hire provider. They thought that more is never enough.

They were wrong. Alas, the thirsty fish gets fatally hooked!

There are good reasons to use labour hire businesses:

  • Greater flexibility.
  • Greater access to skills.
  • Increased trial/prohibition period.
  • Cover for absenteeism.

But the downside is less understood:

  • Increased cost – training, supervision and on-cost.
  • Increased OH&S risk – no commitment to culture, less disciplinary control, delegation of OH&S to labour hire provider, dual exposure of employer and labour hire provider.
  • Poor scheduling, planning and managing to avoid need of labour hire. Therefore, further cost and margin reduction.

In a recent case (Markos v Jobs Statewide), a labour hire company failed to properly audit the host employers’ OH&S system to determine if it was a safe working environment for its employees. The employee of the labour hire provider was injured and both the host employer and labour hire provider were fined.

The lessons for employers are simple:

  1. Manage your site efficiently and reduce your reliance on labour hire.
  2. Fully induct labour hire employees on to the site and ensure labour hire providers sign off on the OH&S process.
  3. Do not think you can delegate OH&S to the labour hire provider – manage your own site.

The lessons for labour hire providers are also simple:

  1. Train your employees and ensure appropriate induction at the host employer’s site.
  2. Satisfy yourself that the OH&S program of the host employer is compliant and that appropriate supervision and inspection programs exist.
  3. Don’t turn a blind eye to the host employer’s failings.

With a recession looming, perhaps the thirsty fish will become less thirsty, and less driven in its need to pour more and more water into the tank.

The important thing is that the thirsty fish does not turn to cutting corners when the water shortage starts to hit. OH&S corners, when cut, lead to injury and prosecution. Good management now and in the future can avoid these risks.


Andrew Douglas, Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers

Andrew Douglas is the founder, principal lawyer and managing director of Douglas Workplace & Litigation Lawyers. Andrew is an experienced commercial litigation and workplace lawyer, who acts both as a solicitor and advocate.


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