Companies are increasingly using temporary workers. Often, the health and safety of these workers is not addressed or is insufficient, putting the temporary worker at risk. In the past couple of years, OSHA has been intensely focused on this area. What constitutes a temporary worker? Persons employed as independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers, and workers provided by contract firms. According to a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, contract workers generally have substantially increased chance of health and safety risks than permanent employees. This was especially true in construction and manufacturing. Two other studies found that the injury rate for workers on the job for just one month is more than twice that of workers employed for a year. They also missed work longer because of those injuries, 40 days compared with 27 days for regular workers. The temporary nature of contract work assignments make it less likely that the temporary worker will be adequately trained. Many times, this means that they are not fully aware of job hazards or risks associated with their assignment.

Who is Responsible for Health and Safety?

Companies that use temporary workers are considered “joint employers” by OSHA and share responsibilities with the temporary or subcontracting agency for these workers. The non-supervising employer (the staffing agency usually) still shares responsibility for its workers’ safety and health. Employers must record the injuries and illnesses of temporary workers if they supervise such workers on a day-to-day basis.

As Host Employer, What Do you Need to Do?

  1. The host employer and staffing agencies should set forth their responsibilities for compliance with any applicable OSHA standards in their contract. This will avoid any confusion and will help ensure compliance. Include who will be providing the necessary Personal Protective Equipment for the job, the host or the staffing agency.
  2. The host employer and staffing agencies are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe work environment for temporary workers.  This includes making sure that OSHA training, hazard communication and recordkeeping requirements are met. Because the temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the worker, they are therefore jointly responsible for temporary workers’ safety and health.
  3. Each employer should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent and correct. A hazard assessment should be performed prior to the temporary employee starting their assignment by both the host and staffing agency. For example: staffing agencies might provide general safety and health training, and host employers provide specific training tailored to the particular workplace equipment/hazards. Make sure to verify and validate training that occurs through the temporary agency. Just because the say the employee is trained to worked in say, confined spaces, doesn’t mean they actually are or that the training was adequate. Keep records of all training received.
  4. Communication is important between the staffing agency and the host employer to make sure the workers are protected. The staffing agency and the host employer must set up a way for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and tell each employee how to report work-related injuries and illness. The details of how this communication is to take place should be established in the contract.
  5. Treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training and safety and health protections. Make sure that training is in their preferred language and that it is documented. Encourage them to identify and report hazards to a supervisor. Inform them that they have the right to a safe workplace, as well as the right to refuse unsafe work. Include them fully in your safety culture.