In 2013, an enforcement initiative was launched by OSHA focusing on the improvement of safety measures for temporary workers. OSHA defines "temporary workers" as workers that are supplied to a host employer and paid by a staffing agency. This applies whether the worker's job is temporary or not. OSHA's enforcement initiative focuses on identifying temporary workers, evaluating whether they are exposed to any safety hazards, and determining if they have received proper training and protection.
In recent months, OSHA has received a number of reports of temporary workers suffering fatal injuries during their first few days on a job. For example, in December of 2013, an Illinois temporary worker was killed by the forklift he was operating when it fell between the dock and truck. Also in December of 2013, a temporary worker died from a fall after he was caught in a sorter. Lastly OSHA cited Bacardi Bottling Corporation after a 21-year old temporary worker was fatally injured his first day on the job.
Ultimately, OSHA views the protecting of temporary workers as a joint responsibility between host employers and their staffing agency. However, OSHA has shown concern that as a means to avoid meeting all their compliance obligations under the OSH Act and other worker protection laws, some employers are using more and more temporary workers. Temporary workers are often not given adequate safety and health training or explanations of their duties by either the temporary staffing agency or the host employer and are likely more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards than workers in traditional employment relationships.
In accordance with the relevant record-keeping standard, Covered Employees (1904.31 (a)) (1), the host employer is required to record injuries and illnesses that occur to employees who are not on the payroll and are supervised on a day-to-day basis.
The host employer and staffing agency each have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements for temporary workers and ultimately share in these responsibilities.
Responsibilities of the host employer may include:
- Outline the responsibilities with the staffing agency for compliance with applicable OSHA standards at the outset of the engagement
- Evaluate the hazards to temporary workers
- Provide site specific training since the host employer is typically in a better position to provide safety training on a specific hazard or piece of equipment that is unique to its work site.
- Provide PPE as required
- Inform staffing agency of any injury or illness
Responsibilities of the staffing agency may include:
- Audit the host employer's work site in order to determine general working conditions and what hazards may be encountered
- Ensure proper supervision and protection of temporary workers - ignorance of hazards is not an excuse
- Inquire and verify the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace
- Inform host employer of any injury or illness
Both the host employer and staffing agency may be held responsible for any violations, including the lack of adequate workplace hazard training. Bidirectional communication is vital to ensure safety and reduce the likelihood of citations.
Below is a list of possible audit points for temporary workers:
- Identify any temporary workers and whether they are exposed to hazardous conditions.
- Determine through the use of existing records and interviews whether temporary workers have received required training in a language and vocabulary they understand.
- Look for situations where temporary workers working in hazardous situations and were not protected due to lack of personal protective equipment or proper lockout / tagout protections.
- Determine who bears responsibility for maintaining injury / illness records (host employer or the staffing agency) by documenting the supervisory structure of temporary workers.
Regardless of the shared responsibilities, OSHA's bottom line is that the host employer is ultimately responsible for treating temporary workers like other workers in respect to training, safety and health protections.
OSHA is making a concerted effort through enforcement, outreach and training to ensure the proper protection from workplace hazards for temporary workers.
OSHA's webpage on the subject, Protecting Temporary Employees (2), details what OSHA considers to be the host employer's responsibilities for temporary workers. This, in conjunction with OSHA's Temporary Worker Initiative - TWI Bulletin No. 1, provide a game plan for employers to demonstrate compliance and avoid citations.