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Good Practice With Overseas Workers: A Case Study

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 4 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Overseas Workers Workers

Tania Greer is a health and safety consultant. She has many years’ experience of overseas workers. Employers and workers frequently ask her questions about key aspects of health and safety law. She’s therefore produced her own good practice guide.

Responsibilities

“The first thing to note is that UK health and safety law applies to Overseas Workers in the same way as it applies to UK workers. No matter who you are – employer, worker or overseas worker – you have responsibilities under the law.

Employee

“Despite this – or perhaps because of it - I get employers saying that overseas workers don’t actually work for them. In reply, I point out what the law says.

“In other words, overseas workers are your employees if you manage where, how and when they work; if you give them most of the equipment and materials they use in the workplace; if you make deductions for Tax and National Insurance from the money you give them; and if the workers cannot supply replacement workers when they’re off sick or otherwise unable to work.

“In reality, the fact that labour providers – known also as employment agencies and gangmasters – supply the overseas workers to an employer muddies the water. What I advise is that all parties in any working arrangement confirm their relationship in writing. This includes their health and safety responsibilities.

English

“A misconception about health and safety for overseas workers is that the workers must speak English. The law doesn’t usually demand this. But good practice clearly dictates that overseas workers should try to develop a basic grasp of English. Similarly, employers should think about giving their overseas workers access to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses.

Employers

“General good practice for employers under the law boils down to the following points. Provide health and safety information, training and supervision so that overseas workers can understand it. Ensure overseas workers possess the skills and knowledge to do a job safely and well. And ensure overseas workers know that the employer and/or the labour provider have health and safety responsibility for them.

“If the overseas workers have difficulty with English, employers must get the above points across in the appropriate language.

Workers

“One common question I get from overseas workers is about health and safety protection: do they get the same degree of protection if they’re in the UK legally or illegally? The answer is yes. The employer has to adhere to health and safety law either way.

“With this question out of the way, good practice for overseas workers comes down to the following. Overseas workers must not work in such a way to put others at risk. They must help employers lower the health and safety Risks at Work. They must use equipment in accordance with training. They must use any supplied health and safety clothing. And they must tell the employer if they’ve given birth in the last six months, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

“I advise overseas workers to speak to each other about these issues. I also suggest they speak to the employer as regularly as necessary. In this way, workers can help preserve their rights and ensure safe working practices.”

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