OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recently announced an initiative to protect temporary workers from workplace hazard. Inspectors from OSHA will check for safety measures, appropriate training and working conditions at every firm that employs temporary workers. OSHA field inspectors are now directed to assess whether any employees at job sites are temporary and if any of the identified temporary employees are exposed to a violative condition. Additionally, inspectors are directed to identify the workers' staffing company, the company's location and the supervising structure under which the temporary workers are reporting.
Staffing firms and companies are required to provide safe workplaces for temporary employees, along with necessary safety and health training on workplace hazards. Although distribution of safety-related duties and responsibilities should be clearly detailed in contracts between staffing firms and client companies, both entities may be held liable by OSHA and the courts.
“OSHA feels strongly that temporary and contract workers – many of whom work in low-wage jobs and face serious hazards – must have equal protections, and employers must provide these workers with a safe workplace.” ~OSHA
Recent Deaths Incited Initiative
The initiative to protect temporary workers under OSHA was prompted by cases of temporary worker deaths in the past year at a South Carolina paper mill, a New York construction site and at a Florida bottling plant.
As of now only the Florida case has resulted in citations, where Bacardi Bottling Corp. was cited for two willful, nine serious and one other-than-serious violations.
The Center of Public Integrity says that this is not a new problem as it comes after years of complaints from contract workers that they do not feel protected at their work sites. Research conducted found that temporary workers are at a higher risk of occupational injury due to a lack of safety training. Some findings even imply that employers view contract workers as expendable.
A recent study by the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health of 4,000 workers in Illinois who had suffered some form of work-related amputation found that 5 out of 10 employers with the highest number of workplace accidents were temporary staffing companies.
Another study in 2010 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries found that temporary workers in Washington State had a higher injury rate than permanent workers.
Looking at the BLS Numbers
Looking at the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Count by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the final count of fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2011 was 4,693. The overall fatal work injury rate was 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
Fatal Injury by Occupation
Fatal work injuries involving contractors accounted for 12% of all fatal work injuries in 2011. And the largest net increase in fatal work injuries among occupations involved drivers of tractor-trailer or other heavy tracks (670 cases).
Fatal Injury by Industry
Bureau of Labor Statistics data says that contingent workers’ injuries are declining. However, it seems that these injuries are undercounted.
In a BLS-funded project in 2012, officials at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries interviewed over 50 employers who used temp workers. Only one-third said that they would enter a temp worker injury in their OSHA log.
According to Leone Jose Bicchieri of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, advocates for temp workers, temporary employees are often reluctant to report injuries because they are so easily replaced.
What Does this Mean for the Temporary Staffing Industry?
Temporary worker advocates such as the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative approve of the OSHA initiative, claiming that OSHA should target employers known to make heavy use of staffing agencies.
“The rise of the staffing industry is partially to give companies a greater distance from regulation. OSHA needs to come up with a different approach for this rapidly growing sector.” ~Leone Jose Bicchieri, Chicago Workers’ Collaborative
However, many parties believe that temp workers already have the same legal protection as permanent employees. Stephen Dwyer, general counsel for the American Staffing Association, cautions against an OSHA crackdown on temporary staffing agencies due to the consequences it might have on workers, employers and the economy.
"To the extent that efforts become heavy-handed, there can be a disincentive, then to using temporary workers” ~Stephen Dwyer, American Staffing Association
“Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations. Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand.” ~OSHA press release, April 29th, 2013