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What’s Behind Temporary Worker Injuries?

Written by Ankin Law Office

A growing temporary workforce and lack of on-the-job training are contributing to increased accidents and injuries for temporary workers, as well as increased safety violations for employers.

Temporary Work Can be Dangerous

Over the last decade, businesses have experienced a dramatic increase in the use of temporary workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 there were approximately three million temporary workers in the American workforce. Since then, numbers have grown due to a rise in an unsteady economy that created a shortage of permanent jobs for many workers. A growing temporary employment trend has led to an increased number of workplace accidents, injuries, and deaths for temporary workers.

A new workplace can present a dangerous environment for workers without safety training, especially in jobs that require manual labor, the use of heavy equipment, moving machinery, and protective gear. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been concerned about the rising number of injuries and fatalities to temporary workers for years. In 2014, OSHA handed out a number of workplace safety violations with steep fines to companies around the country:

  • A Texas vegetable processor and its staffing agency were fined $135,200 for exposing temporary workers to toxic chemicals and dangerous noise levels.
  • OSHA issued a fine of $40,600 to a California cereal manufacturer for exposing full-time and temporary workers to fall hazards, electrical hazards, and dangerous noise levels.
  • Five other companies, including four staffing agencies, were issued safety violations for on-the-job hazards that led to the death of a New Jersey temporary worker.
  • A waste management company received an OSHA safety violation for the death of a temporary worker. The 31-year-old temp died on the third day of his new assignment while loading trash onto a garbage disposal truck.
  • OSHA issued another fine for $192,000 to a different employer for safety violations that led to a temporary worker’s death on the first day of the job.

Since temporary workers are not full-time employees, many employers pay less attention to their health and safety in the workplace. Temp workers rarely receive on-the-job training, because employers don’t want to invest the time and money in someone who will only be on the job for a short time. Employers are less concerned about workplace accidents and injuries since temporary workers are not covered under workers compensation benefits. Due to the transient nature of temporary workers, many employers assume they can overlook health and safety requirements for people in the temporary workforce. This puts temp workers in dangerous situations that often lead to serious workplace injuries and fatalities.

Safety for Temporary Workers

The increasing number of temporary workers in the workforce and rising injury and fatality reports have led OSHA to initiate a safety plan with protection measures. As part of the plan, OSHA announced its use of safety enforcement measures, on-the-job training procedures, and community outreach programs to protect temp workers from all workplace hazards.

OSHA states that employers have a responsibility to provide appropriate health and safety training to all workers regarding workplace hazards. To make sure that employers are meeting those requirements, OSHA instructed all of its safety inspectors to note both temporary and full-time workers during company inspections. Inspectors were also told to note whether temporary and full-time workers were exposed to dangerous workplace conditions that could cause accidents, injuries, and fatalities. OSHA directed its inspectors to conduct employee interviews, review company records, and determine whether all workers received the knowledge to recognize workplace hazards and sufficient training to know how to handle them.

In most cases, host employers and staffing agencies are held jointly responsible for the safety of temporary workers in the workplace. This includes providing adequate basic training, informing workers of hazardous workplace conditions, and keeping accurate company records. If these requirements are not followed, both the host employer and the staffing agency who placed the temp worker can receive OSHA health and safety violations.

OSHA identifies a number of responsibilities for host employers who use temporary staffing agencies, contractors, and vendors.

Workplace Assessment

OSHA recommends that temporary staffing agencies and contractors who place workers in jobs conduct initial and periodic health and safety assessments on job sites. If unsafe or hazardous workplace conditions are found, the staffing agency or contractor should ask the host employer to inform the temporary workers of the conditions and take the necessary steps to correct the problems. If corrections are not made, the temporary worker may be removed from the job.

Safety Training

OSHA recommends that host employers, staffing agencies, and contractors provide basic safety training and safety gear to their employees, including an overview of topics appropriate to the workplace where employees are being assigned. OSHA recommends all host employers provide federal and state mandated compliance training that is applicable to the host employer’s work environment and job processes and requirements.