Food delivery companies such as Deliveroo should be forced to investigate accidents and address risks facing their Scottish couriers, according to campaigners.
The call comes as the Workers Observatory – an Edinburgh project supporting fast food couriers – prepares to launch a manifesto in response to rider safety concerns such as traffic hazards.
Developed with the support of the STUC and Edinburgh University, the manifesto calls for riders to have better protections at work, and asks councils to step into gaps left by legislation by monitoring riders’ road accidents.
Riders – who are still considered by many companies to be self-employed despite a ruling by the UK Supreme Court that Uber drivers should be classified as workers – fall outside of UK health and safety laws.
The Worker’s Observatory collective, working with Edinburgh University sociologist Karen Gregory, claims that company policies of paying more per delivery “incentivise risk taking”.
They have gathered examples of traffic accidents and “near misses” experienced by Edinburgh food delivery couriers. Others have told researchers they feel “pressurised” to take jobs in areas that feel unsafe because they worry refusing an order will affect the allocation of jobs.
Deliveroo deny this and claim that all riders are free to refuse a job at any time.
The Ferret spoke to workers for food delivery multinationals, who recently had accidents or felt unsafe at work.
They included one working for Deliveroo and UberEats who was hospitalised after an accident last October. Chino, as we agreed to call him because he still works for the companies, claims his own lack of judgement was partly to blame for the accident. But he said he knows others who have had accidents and near misses.
“Everyone knows this job is dangerous,” he added. “The accident I had last year was the first time I’ve been hit. But there is a sense that eventually it’s going to happen. You will bump into a car, someone will open their door into traffic.”
In July 2018, Daniel Smith, a Deliveroo rider and student in Edinburgh, was hit by an oncoming car and cracked his spine.
Other accidents have been fatal. Last November in Australia five food delivery couriers were reported to have been killed at work in a two month period.
Chino’s accident happened in Edinburgh after he strayed too far into the middle lane to avoid buses and was hit by an oncoming car. His finger was badly damaged with the bone visible.
He was operated on and later able to claim insurance from both companies, which was paid after five weeks. Due to the pandemic, he was able to claim Universal Credit while off sick and waiting for the payments. But he said others may not be so lucky.
“It was ok for me because I’m just a single millennial,” he added. “But if you’re a parent, or you’re from another country and being exploited, or you can’t afford to take care of your bike or something like that, it’s a big issue. It’s also when you really need the money that you do crazy stuff.”
Ditigal sociologist Karen Gregory, who published a study on safety issues last December, said: “The structure of paying riders “per drop” incentivises workers to deliver quickly, so that they are ready for the next delivery assignment. This can mean pushing it on city streets or racing through the city on a bicycle or scooter to minimise your delivery time.
“Riders have become notorious for running red lights and challenging cars and taxis, but in reality they are moving quickly because of the way their work is organised. The pressure to deliver quickly is inherently risky.”
The Ferret also spoke to riders who reported other risks including feeling unsafe in certain parts of town, being harassed while delivering as a lone woman, and not having somewhere safe to go for the toilet.
Alice Barker, 30, who works for companies including Just Eat and UberEats, said the way the apps work mean she has to accept jobs without knowing where in the city she is going, which has made her feel at risk on some occassions.
She said: “Uber do, in theory, show you the location but in practice if I get [a job] when I am cycling I just have to accept it without being able to see my phone screen.
“There are issues being a woman, definitely. I’ve been harrassed on my bike. And I’ve been contacted and asked out by people who’ve got my number from the app but not for work.”
In response to safety concerns the Workers’ Observatory is asking MSP candidates to support its manifesto ahead of the Scottish elections on 6 May. Demands include a call for councils to monitor accidents so that riders are better able to assess health and safety risks.
Cailean Gallagher, coordinator of the Workers Observatory, said: “Just like in other workplaces, when gig workers have accidents or injuries at work, these should be reported and monitored.
“Councils should be able to receive accident reports and then share the information with riders so that they can monitor the risks and hazards of their work and develop appropriate demands.
“Workers often don’t have a voice in how the city is planned. At the moment nobody is really taking responsibility for their safety so in the absence of a legal duty of care, we think councils should step in and monitor this.”
Kathy Jenkins, secretary of Scottish Hazards, claimed gig workers fell into a “grey area” in terms of health and safety legislation, as a previous EU directive which would have offered some protections had so far not been carried over into UK health and safety laws.
She said the UK Government should act to ensure delivery companies were held responsible.
“All working people must have full protection under strongly enforced health and safety law,” she added.
“Crucially, this should include those in the gig economy.”
SNP MP Stewart McDonald said he was “appalled” to hear of the serious safety concerns.
But he added: “Given that the high court recently found that the UK Government failed to implement important EU health and safety protections into UK law, these concerns – albeit shocking – are not surprising.”
A spokesperson for Deliveroo said: “Deliveroo takes rider safety extremely seriously.”We were one of the first food delivery platforms to provide free personal accident insurance to all riders globally. This gives all riders income protection and compensation if they have an accident while working with Deliveroo.
“To support riders with health and safety, we also have a number of schemes to ensure that riders keep safe. This has been particularly important during the pandemic.”
The company said it kept data on accidents but declined to share it.
Just Eat told The Ferret that it is currently rolling out a “worker model” with all 2,000 couriers so far contracted through it entitled to hourly pay, pension contributions and certain statutory benefits including holiday pay and sick pay.
A spokesperson added: “For Just Eat, it’s really important that all couriers delivering on our behalf are treated fairly and are able to work safely.
“We continue to offer guidance on topics such as health and safety to support this. We’re committed to keeping an open dialogue with the couriers we engage with and whenever we’re made aware of any concerns, we will always investigate and take action as needed.”
UberEats did not respond to a request for comment.
Edinburgh City Council said “dangerous occurrences” should be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or its officers.
An HSE spokesperson said: “For health and safety purposes, gig economy workers should be treated no differently to other workers and will often identify as agency or temporary workers, or self-employed.
“Employers also have duties under health and safety law covering their management arrangements for couriers and delivery drivers themselves whilst enforcement of ‘on the road’ incidents fall to the police and DVSA under road traffic law.”
Cover image thanks to iStock/nrqemi