Safety for Temporary Workers Is a Permanent Responsibility

Temporary workers, often referred to as temps, have rights too. Although temps may have fewer rights than permanent employees, they do have the right to a safe place to work where they are treated fairly without discrimination.

George KennedyTemporary workers, often referred to as temps, have rights too. Although temps may have fewer rights than permanent employees, they do have the right to a safe place to work where they are treated fairly without discrimination. Employers who hire temps through a staffing agency — as well as those employers who really go out on a limb and hire temps off the street — need to remember to treat their temps as they treat their existing employees.

If your company is going to hire temporary employees, it is highly recommended that you hire them through a staffing agency. Some employers think they can avoid meeting all their compliance obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and other worker protection laws if they hire a temp. This is not true; employers cannot avoid their responsibility to ensure the worker has had the proper safety training to perform their work safely, they have been provided with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and they are not placed in a hazardous situation. Companies should also ensure that their workers’ compensation insurance covers temps.

Workers who are not provided with a safe place to work or treated properly, even if they are undocumented workers, have a right to sue a company if their rights are violated or if they are injured because the company did not provide the necessary training or equipment to work safely. Placing employees in hazardous unprotected situations or letting them use unsafe equipment can result in a lawsuit, particularly when the temp was not hired through a staffing agency. It is shocking how many companies are facing lawsuits by temporary workers, even undocumented workers (illegal aliens), because the employer did not provide the equipment and/or level of safety to ensure that the worker was protected from harm.

Joint Responsibility

Hiring temps through a temporary worker staffing agency provides some protection to employers (unlike finding employees off the street). While the extent of responsibility depends on the contractual obligations between a staffing agency and host employer, both the staffing agency and employer are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe place for temporary employees to work, including ensuring required OSHA training, hazard communication and recordkeeping requirements are fulfilled.

OSHA has expressed concerns that some employers may take advantage of temps as a way of avoiding their safety and health responsibilities because that employee may be here today and gone tomorrow. That kind of attitude can get a company into trouble and/or an expensive lawsuit.

Temporary workers get placed in a variety of jobs and are often more vulnerable to safety and health hazards because of a lack of knowledge or experience. For example, if a worker is hired to shovel dirt there may not be a lot of training required. However, if that worker is going to be required to shovel dirt while working in a trench, then it is necessary to provide some trench safety training. If the worker will be handling chemicals or hazardous materials, then hazard communications training is necessary.

When temps are hired through an agency, OSHA could hold both the host and temp agency responsible for any unsafe conditions or violations of OSHA standards. Some temp agencies provide some of the basic safety training that every worker may need to have, such as hazard communication, ladder safety, use of PPE, etc. Some go even further to ensure all construction workers have attended an OSHA 10-hour construction outreach training program before farming them out to construction companies. Always check with the agency to determine what it provides and ensure you provide any additional training such as trench safety or confined space entry training before letting any temps work in or around trenches or confined spaces.

Because temp agencies and employers share control over the temp workers, they are jointly responsible for temporary workers’ safety and health. In addition, temp agencies are generally held responsible for checking the worker’s work status, background, providing workers’ compensation, making payroll, etc. When hiring off the street, the employer is responsible and at risk of having problems.

Working with a Staffing Agency

OSHA wants to remind employers and temp agencies that they should consider any hazards to determine who is in the best position to prevent and correct them, meet training requirements and comply with OSHA standards. For example, the staffing agency might provide the general safety and health training, and the employer will provide specific training tailored to the particular workplace equipment and hazards.

Points to Remember:

  • The key is communication between the staffing agency and the employer to ensure that the necessary protections are provided.
  • Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers’ assigned workplaces. They must ensure they are sending workers to a safe place.
  • Employers should provide the staffing agency with a complete description of the type of work that is planned for the temp worker and the location of the worksite.
  • Both organizations must recognize that ignorance is not an excuse.
  • Staffing agencies need not become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at their clients’ (employers’) worksites, what hazards may be encountered and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers.
  • The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the employer has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace. Employers should invite an agency representative for a visit if time allows.
  • Employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training, safety and health.

Conclusion

If you are an employer, it does not matter who you hire or how many people you hire or if they are part-time, full-time or temporary workers — every worker has a legal right to a safe place to work, no matter what.  If your company plans to hire temporary workers, make sure you know what your responsibilities are and work with a competent staffing agency. If you decide to go elsewhere for workers, know what you could be getting into and your responsibilities.

Hire temporary workers if the necessity arises, but always remember to KEEP THEM SAFE!

George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.

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