Workers who are employed through staffing agencies are generally referred to as temporary workers, contracted workers, or supplied workers. Regardless of the length of their contract, temporary workers are entitled to the same protections afforded to all other employees. Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 temporary workers are entitled to the same protections by law and are protected by whistleblower protection rights. All employees, including temporary workers who report or raise concerns about unsafe or unhealthy work conditions are protected from retaliation such as discipline, demotion, reassignment, or loss of job.
According to data made available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 5,190 workplace fatalities in 2016, 16.5% (856 cases) involved contracted employees. All workers always have a right to a safe and healthy workplace, but often temporary workers report that they feel as if they do not receive the same number of trainings or precautions as their full-time colleagues.
What does OSHA say about temporary workers?
OSHA launched its Temporary Worker Initiative in 2013 to emphasize the importance of protecting this workplace population. “Workers must be safe, whether they’ve been on the job for one day or for 25 years,” then-Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said in an April 2013 press release.
First and foremost, staffing agencies and host employers are both responsible for maintaining a safe environment for temporary workers. They also both have roles in complying with the health and safety requirements and as such they also share the responsibility for keeping workers safe. It is important that both the host employer and the staffing agency communicate with each other to plan for and provide protections. Ideally, this division of labor should be contained in a written contract. Dual responsibility could look like, for example, having the staffing agency review general safety and health training, while host employers provide tailored and specific training about their particular workplace equipment or hazards.
How can host employers and staffing agencies protect temporary workers?
- Evaluate the host employer’s worksite: The staffing agency and the host employer should jointly review all worksites prior to accepting new projects and workers. Each entity should communicate any potential or past hazards with each other.
- Provide appropriate trainings: Provide trainings before and during employment: Host employers should provide site specific training while staffing agencies should provide a more generalized safety and health training before the employee begins work. The staffing agency should provide records of these trainings to the host company to ensure that all appropriate trainings have been completed.
- Record and report injuries: Under OSHA regulations, companies must record injuries sustained by temporary workers. Both the host employer and staffing agency should track injuries and when possible, investigate. OSHA requires that injury and illness records be kept by the employer who is providing day-to-day supervision for statistical purposes.
- Take note of hazardous conditions: Employers should take the time to see if there are any preventable hazards in their organization to prevent future injuries from occurring. If a temporary worker is injured, the staffing agency should be informed as soon as the host company is made aware, so the staffing agency knows about the hazards facing its workers. Equally, if a staffing agency learns of an injury, it should inform the host employer promptly so that the case is properly reported, and future instances can be prevented.
- Offer health screenings: Just like with full time employees, health screenings are a useful tool to detect warning signs of chronic illness that may contribute to workplace injury or illness and provide workers with a chance to address these issues as soon as possible. Proactively instituting a health screening plan, especially when used in conjunction with pre-employment drug testing and comprehensive training, sets the stage for a successful staffing experience.
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