Private and agency cleaners may not have recognized health and safety training, or correct insurance. Should our industry be concerned about this?
Every job has its risks, and home cleaning is no different. Where the divergence comes is in the form of the industry workers themselves, and what risks those working alone or as agency contractors are running on a regular basis.
All UK employers have a legal responsibility to provide relevant health and safety training as part of a duty of care to their employees and any clients they may have. This, of course, does not apply to housekeeping agencies or private cleaners. Many of these private cleaners lack the necessary industry knowledge of the risks involved when undertaking such work, and do not seek any advice on what steps they should take to protect themselves against accidents in the workplace (in this case, clients’ homes). This includes insurance cover, and in particular public liability insurance, which a reputable tradesperson will always have, to ensure that their clients and themselves are protected in the event of a serious accident within the property.
Good health and safety training is vital for avoiding many of the issues that can lead to accidents. For example:
- An understanding of how to move and work safely in a home environment – slips and trips are the biggest cause of accidents when working in private properties; incorrect handling when bending and/or moving furniture etc are also common, leading to muscle strain and back injury
- A knowledge of COSHH – safe handling of all cleaning products and chemicals is a must. There was a case in the Midlands recently of a home cleaner incorrectly mixing two COSHH products together, with tragic results
- Adoption of good working practices for the home environment – including the wearing of PPE to protect the worker, safe use of step-ladders, vacuum cleaners and other such appliances, and the avoidance of cross-contamination
So what about the agency? Agency workers are self-employed, referred to by the small print of a lot of agency documents as contractors. This sets them apart in UK employment law from the directly employed individual, and also precludes a company from giving instruction to anyone carrying out regular work on their behalf. This means that an agency may not be able to offer the necessary training to their self-employed workers even if they wanted to, without changing their business model. They may also be unable to provide their clients with a comprehensive insurance policy; before Email Mum could implement their own full insurance cover, we had to provide the insurance company with a health & safety policy statement as well as an undertaking to provide all of our staff, present and future, with the correct training, something we could only do because of being a managed company directly employing our housekeepers.
This state of affairs is something of a concern for the industry as a whole, and one for which the solution is not obvious. If you are an agency, we would love to hear how you manage risk and ensure that your contractors are protected. If you are a private cleaner working one-to-one with your own clients or as a contractor for an agency, we would be interested in learning your experiences in the field. And, too, if you have any concerns about your own safety, please feel free to ask any questions via the comments link, and we will try to advise where we can.