2020 | Allyson O’Connor, Trevor Peckham, and Noah Seixas

This study conceptualizes how work arrangement, or the terms and conditions of employment, can impact health and safety exposure in the workplace. Occupational health and safety research, practice and policy has typically been conducted with the “standard employment relationship” in mind – where the work is permanent, with full-time hours, and under a single employer that has clear responsibilities and obligations to the worker. Yet, employment or contractual relationships are deviating from this model. Various forms of “non-standard” work arrangements—also referred to non-traditional, alternative, flexible, fissured, precarious, contingent, temporary, atypical, or gig work— represent a growing segment of the workforce in industrialized economies.

These non-standard work arrangements may have overlapping attributes, yet there is ambiguity regarding how these arrangements obscure mechanisms that lead to increased health and safety risks for workers. In this paper, the authors provide a framework that outlines three key features of work arrangements that need to be considered to distinguish between forms of work:

  1. Whether an arrangement is permanent or temporary.
  2. Whether a worker is a contractor or an employee.
  3. Whether an arrangement involves more than one firm.

The takeaway for occupational health and safety professions is that work arrangements have implications for worker health and safety by potentially intensifying existing hazards or creating new ones within the workplace. The authors suggest five primary mechanisms by which workers in temporary, contractor, and/or indirect work arrangements may experience adverse health outcomes:

  1. Low levels of social support and provision of resources.
  2. Lack of familiarity with hazards and equipment.
  3. High hazard job placement.
  4. Reluctance to refuse work.
  5. Shifting of responsibility for health and safety from the employer to the worker or client organization.

The character of work arrangements is an important and understudied determinant of worker health and safety experience on the job. The researchers offer a common language to improve assessments and develop programs to protect workers in non-standard work arrangements. In addition, the researchers highlight some policy measures that can improve working conditions by empowering workers through:

  1. Enhanced retaliation laws and encouraging collective organization.
  2. Ensuring host employers are financially and legally liable for worker health and safety in indirect arrangements and preventing the misclassification of independent contractors.

From a practice and policy perspective, occupational health professionals can use this work to identify and support workers in nonstandard work arrangements.