Who is responsible for my safety as an agency worker?

As an agency worker, your agency has a responsibility not to place you in a job for which you are not appropriately qualified. Your agency also has a legal duty to find out about any health and safety risks that may exist at the placement company, and what the placement company is doing to prevent and control those risks. They should check that the hirer has carried out a thorough health and safety risk assessment, and ensure that you are made aware of the situation before placing you with the organisation.

The company where you are placed is responsible for making sure that the workplace is a safe working environment for you, and must provide appropriate health and safety training. Employers must carry out a risk assessment of the work activities carried out. This assessment includes identifying any hazards, who is at risk, then taking action to remove them or to reduce them as far as possible. The employer must write down the results of the risk assessment, do follow-up checks from time to time and take further action if necessary.

If you are an agency worker operating in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish-gathering or any associated packaging and processing sector, your agency must hold a licence from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) (previously the Gangmasters Licencing Authority), which will require your employer to maintain standards, including in the context of health and safety. You can find out more about the GLAA from the 'advice for workers' page on their website.

Note that the remit of the GLAA has recently changed. Under changes made by the Immigration Act 2016, the GLAA is able to exercise enforcement powers across the whole economy, instead of being confined to a few sectors.

Health and safety enforcement is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive. You can find useful advice on the HSE page: Health and safety for agency and temporary workers. The HSE will not necessarily be the right enforcement agency for the sector in which you work. The HSE has a list.

Employment agency standards are also the responsibility of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI). This body is responsible for making sure a worker is paid their full wages and doesn't have their wages withheld, for ensuring that the employment agency does not charge a fee for finding an agency worker assignments, ensuring the agency worker gets written information about the type of work the agency will find them and also relating to each assignment, making sure workers are not forced to pay for extra services from the agency and that the agency worker has a safe environment to work in.

You can make a complaint to the EASI via the Acas Helpline. EASI has powers to inspect and fine employment agencies and businesses.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.