Cashins & Associates Blog

Temporary Workers:  Who is responsible for their health and safety?

Posted by Eileen Watkins on Wed, Jan, 13, 2016 @ 10:01 AM

temp_worker_Safety_Health.jpgTemporary workers are an attractive to solution to companies who experience unpredictable or seasonal surges in demands for goods or services. They help employers who need extra help but are hesitant to permanently add personnel to their workforce. Finally, they can act as fill-ins for regular workers who take extended absences.

Temporary workers present special occupational health and safety challenges. For example, they may not have the safety background or skills that they need in order to work safely in the host employer’s facility. They may lack training that is mandated by OSHA. In short, they are very likely to increase your company’s risk and liability.

A 2011 study by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) supports this claim. The BLS found that temporary workers have an increased risk of workplace injury, illness, and death compared to employees who are on the company payroll. OSHA acknowledges the gravity of these statistics and is tackling this issue head-on.  In fact, the agency issues citations involving temporary workers virtually every month of the year.

Who is responsible for the health and safety of temporary workers? The staffing agency who hires the individual, places them with a host employer, and pays their salary? Or the host employer, the company who is responsible for day-to-day direct supervision of that worker? A quick look at OSHA's citations involving temporary workers reinforces the agency's message that both groups share responsibility for the safety and health of temporary workers.

While joint responsibility probably makes sense to most people, there are likely to be many different opinions regarding “who” is responsible for “what”. The reality is that the lines of responsibility will always need to be drawn on a case-by-case basis. Too many variables are standing in the way of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that successful temporary worker programs share some key features. Clear and continual communication between the staffing agency and host employer lead the list. For example, the host employer needs to thoroughly describe the essential job functions of the position that needs to be filled. This allows the staffing agency to select a person with a matching skillset. In addition, staffing agencies and hosts who keep each other informed of their health and safety policies, programs, and practices give clear, consistent guidance to the temporary worker.

Successful programs also involve coordinated health and safety training. At a minimum, the staffing agency should provide general awareness training on those topics having broad application across many industries. This includes evacuation and other emergency procedures, hazard communication, and personal protective equipment (PPE). It may also include other topics such as fire prevention, powered industrial trucks, lockout tagout, and confined space.

The host employer must then follow-up with customized health and safety training of their own. This additional training not only reinforces the initial training provided by the staffing agency, but it also gives vital facility-specific information to the temporary worker. For example, where is the emergency exit route? How do personnel access the Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals being used at the site? What PPE is required and when should it be worn?

Finally, successful temporary worker programs address health and safety hazards head-on. Best-in-class host employers inform all workers about the specific health and safety hazards at the site - and how to work safely with them.  Reputable staffing agencies periodically evaluate the host employer’s facility in order to verify that health and safety precautions are in place - and commensurate with the degree of risk.  These proactive approaches protect all parties, including the temporary worker.

You can learn more about temporary worker safety by checking out OSHA’s Temporary Worker Initiative (https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers/) and its alliance with the American Staffing Association (https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/alliances/asa_staffing/asa_agreement.html). Better yet, give Cashins & Associates a call or request an inquiry by clicking on the icon on the right side of this page. Our experienced and knowledgeable staff can assess your temporary worker program or help you develop one. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Topics: health & safety

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