Strategies to address occupational safety and health risks in digital platform work


Actively preventing, mitigating and tackling risks in digital platform work is crucial to safeguard workers’ occupational safety and health (OSH). The novelty of this work model, along with existing legal uncertainties about the employment status of platform workers, amplifies the complexity of addressing OSH in digital platform work. Prioritising worker wellbeing is essential for sustainable employment practices in the digital age, which require proactive efforts from all actors involved.

Key OSH risks in digital platform work
Digital platform work presents a range of risks to workers’ OSH, some of which are similar to those found outside the platform economy in equivalent jobs, like ergonomic issues, slips and falls and traffic accidents, but others are unique to platform work, due to the platforms’ way of organising tasks and design. Key challenges include algorithmic management and surveillance and the associated lack of transparency, work intensification leading to poor work-life balance, as well as job and income insecurity, which can contribute to mental health issues.

Moreover, the ambiguous employment status and non-standard contractual arrangements — common in digital platforms in most EU Member States — often classify workers as self-employed, making them responsible for their own OSH. This situation is exacerbated by a general lack of awareness, inadequate prevention and enforcement services and the workers’ exclusion from social dialogue and collective bargaining, which means that they are left unsupported when managing OSH risks.

Taking action to ensure platform workers’ safety
Legislative initiatives aimed at enhancing the safety of digital platforms workers have been implemented or are underway both at the European and national levels. In March 2024, an agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on a new directive to improve working conditions for these workers in the European Union. This act has the potential to clarify the employment status of at least 11.5 million people. Similarly, various national legislations like the Spanish Riders Law, the legislative frameworks in Italy and France and legislative initiatives in Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Malta and Portugal include provisions such as the right to algorithmic transparency or the presumption of a dependent employment relationship between workers and platforms.

Trade unions across the EU have launched initiatives to raise awareness about the current state of the sector among platform workers, decision makers and the public at large. These efforts cover various strategies, including the establishment of registers and observatories of working conditions, voluntary schemes, development of training tools and the exchange of good practice and information. These actions have been implemented through traditional face-to-face methods as well as newer channels like social media. As an example, the Digital Platform Observatory compiles key practices for worker representation and social dialogue as well as initiatives seeking to improve digital platform workers’ working conditions.

Social dialogue and collective bargaining have proven effective in improving working conditions or preventing OSH risks, for instance by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for riders. Moreover, a Danish trade union and a cleaning service platform negotiated an innovative collective agreement including decent work and sickness benefits for its workers.

Digital platforms also bear significant responsibility for their workers’ OSH. Some platforms have demonstrated proactive action by integrating OSH considerations directly into their operations by establishing hotlines, helpdesks, support systems, corporate group forums and interpersonal safety measures. Additionally, some of them also provide essential benefits like sickness and accident insurance, healthcare and disability coverage, parental leave and OSH training.

In conclusion, addressing OSH risks in digital platform work demands an active and coordinated effort involving platforms and policy makers, but also trade unions and well-informed workers. Only a collaborative approach, where every actor is effectively engaged and committed, will safeguard digital platform workers’ safety and health.