Ensuring the Safety of Temporary Workers
As contractors grapple with shortages of skilled workers in many markets, they often find themselves hiring larger numbers of temporary workers through staffing agencies. That can create issues related to workplace safety, because the temporary workers may not have the full benefit of the safety training the contractor’s own team has received. In addition, temporary workers may be less familiar with the specifics of the projects or the nature of tasks that will be performed.
OSHA has recently expressed concerns about the safety of temporary workers, and about gaps in their training and knowledge when compared to workers from the “host employers” that contract for their services. The federal agency even suggested that some companies may be using temporary workers to evade safety compliance requirements of state and federal laws.
Who is responsible?
Does the host employer that contracts with a staffing agency have the responsibility for complying with safety requirements, or does that duty fall to the staffing agency as the workers’ de facto employer? Nearly everyone has an opinion, but OSHA has issue a definitive answer: both the host employer and the staffing agency share the responsibility for the workers’ well-being, because both share control over the workers’ activities. Both sides are expected to ensure that all relevant safety training, hazard communication, and recordkeeping required by law are fulfilled.
To accomplish that, OSHA recommends that the employer and staffing agency’s contract identify each side’s specific responsibilities for worker safety. Both should consider their roles and resources when deciding which elements to handle. As an example, the staffing agency may be better suited to deliver general safety training to the workers, while the host employer could provide training related to the specific tasks the workers will perform. No matter how these responsibilities are divided, having the details in the contract will ensure that proper precautions are being taken.
Staffing agencies cannot simply accept the host employer’s word that the temporary workers will be in a safe workplace. They have the duty to verify that the places they send workers are safe. Staffing agency representatives need to develop a working knowledge of safety principles and common hazards. That doesn’t mean that they need to become full-fledged experts on all aspects of workplace hazards, but they should be able to acquire a general sense of the work conditions at host employers and the types of hazards temporary workers are likely to encounter in those workplaces.
Before a staffing agency sends a single worker, it should visit the host employer’s workplace and review all the jobsites to which workers might be assigned. The agency should become familiar with the specific tasks that will be performed, any hazards associated with those tasks, and any steps to mitigate those hazards (such as personal protective equipment that’s required and who will supply it). Some staffing agencies may use a safety consultant to accomplish this process.
Conversely, the host employer should review the staffing agency’s training program to ensure that it covers all the content the employer views as necessary. The host employer should also verify that the staffing agency maintains the proper documentation of the training process and worker certifications.
Preventing injuries and illnesses
Information about injuries and their causes plays a critical role in prevention of similar injuries in the future. When two organizations share responsibility for an employee’s well-being, as in the case of a temporary worker, they need to share that information. The contract should spell out exactly how and when such information will be shared. Note that under most circumstances, recordkeeping will be the responsibility of whichever party is responsible for daily supervision of the worker. In most cases, this will be the host employer.
The host employer and staffing agency’s contract should also define specific measures for evaluating the effectiveness of injury-prevention efforts, and for ensuring that temporary employees participate in these efforts. Assessments could include the nature of training and the corresponding number of hazards identified and corrected as a result of that training.
The contract should incorporate clear procedures for responding to and reporting injuries and illnesses, along with training to ensure that temporary employees are familiar with the worksite’s emergency procedures, such as the location of exit routes.
Once a temporary worker is active at the worksite, the staffing agency’s responsibilities have not ended. The contract should detail how the staffing agency will remain in contact with the workers, and how it will verify that the agreed-upon safety procedures are being followed. It should also describe the mechanism through which workers can report concerns about safety or changes in agreed-upon tasks to the staffing agency.
Including all these details in the contract may require additional time upfront, but will provide a clearer understanding of both parties’ responsibilities and ensure that all workers — both permanent and temporary — perform their tasks in the safest possible environment.