Temporary Workers=More Dangerous Workplaces?

The American workplace is indeed much safer than it used to be.  In 1970, 14,000 workers were killed on the job, which equals about 38 workers per day in the United States.  Today, with a much larger workforce, the death rate has fallen to about 12 deaths per day in the U.S.  However, there is some not-so-good news to report.

Let’s set the scene…. as we take a look at a fatality report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

On August 23, 1995, a 21-year-old laborer was killed after falling 25 feet through a skylight while working on a warehouse roof. The victim and a co-worker had been hired as temporary laborers to paint the roof of a large warehouse. At about 3:00 p.m. on their second day at work, the laborers had completed painting for the day and had started to clean another section of the roof. The two decided to take a break and sit down. The victim went over to the plastic domed skylight and pressed against it with his hand, apparently testing its strength. The plastic broke and the victim went through the skylight, falling 25 feet to the warehouse floor below.

According to a new report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA) there is a trend in the American workforce that could cause a greater risk to worker safety… employers’ are increasingly relying on temporary workers, such as the victims in the accident above.

The report says, “More and more workers are not actual employees of the employer who owns or controls the workplace where they work.”  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, during the 1990-2008 time period, temporary employment rose from 1.1 million to 2.3 million.  OSHA says temporary help services includes a larger share of workers in higher skill occupations, which in turn, has had a significant and negative impact on the safety and health of U.S. workers.

Why is this Trend Dangerous?

There is a simple reason why this upward trend in temporary workers is dangerous to the workforce. A company who relies heavily on temporary employees has little financial incentive to make sure these workers are safe.  OSHA law doesn’t apply to employees who are classified as self-employed, such as independent contractors.  A company also isn’t responsible for paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums for workers it hired through a third party, such as an employment agency.  This is the responsibility of the hiring agency.  Also, companies who rely on temporary workers may also not invest in training them on safety measures.  This is a critical oversight because they are actually more likely to encounter unfamiliar work environments. The report says OSHA has recently investigated the deaths of numerous temporary workers who were killed on their first days.

Another study in Washington State found temporary workers had larger rates for “caught in” and “struck by” injuries in the construction and manufacturing industry.  This study found temporary workers are also less likely to report their injuries and file worker compensation claims with their staffing agency because they are afraid they’ll miss out on future employment opportunities.

Best Practices for Staffing Agency

OSHA and NIOSH recently created best-practice guideline to protect the growing temporary worker trend.

Here are a few of the guidelines discussed:

  1. Evaluate the host employer’s worksite.  Prior to entering into an employment relationship, staffing agencies and host employers should review all worksites, tasks and job hazard analyses to identify and eliminate potential safety and health hazards.
  2. Train agency staff to recognize safety and health hazards. Staffing agency representatives will be better equipped to discover hazards and work with the host employer to eliminate or lessen identified hazards commonly faced by its temporary workers.
  3. Track injuries and illnesses. The parties should discuss a procedure to share injury and illness information between the employers, ideally specifying that procedure contractually, OSHA said. If a temporary worker is injured and the host employer knows about it, the staffing agency should be informed promptly. Equally, if a staffing agency learns of an injury, it should inform the host employer promptly so that future injuries might be prevented, and the case is recorded appropriately.
  4. Conduct safety and health training. OSHA standards require site- and task-specific safety and health training in a language the workers understand. Training temp workers is a shared responsibility between the staffing agency and the host employer.  OSHA recommends host employers and staffing agencies provide safety and health orientations for all temporary workers on all new and existing projects.  Temporary workers should also be provided with information on how to report an injury and receive medical treatment for every job.

Even though OSHA points out that these recommendations are for the purpose of guidance, host employers and staffing agencies “may be certain that this new guidance will be the yard stick that OSHA inspectors use to evaluate their policies, training programs and work sites,” said Meagan Newman, environmental and safety attorney at Seyfarth Shaw.  In conclusion, if staffing agencies and host employers worked closely together, it could potentially prevent accidents such as the one mentioned above.

Does your employer use temporary employees on a regular basis?  If so, do they provide the correct training?  Comment below, or join our forum conversation here.