Training Gaps

Growing Temp Workforce Faces Highest Risks

Why staffing agencies — and their clients — need to step up safety training.
By: | June 20, 2014

True or false: Temporary workers are less prone to on-the-job injury than internal employees.

The answer, of course, is absolutely “false.”

The truth is that temporary workers may in fact perform more dangerous jobs than other employees; nonetheless temporary workers tend to get short shrift when it comes to learning about on-the-job safety, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

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Meanwhile, the temporary worker industry has grown by leaps and bounds — growing 125 percent since 1990, OSHA told Risk and Insurance.

A total of 861,000 temporary jobs have been added to the U.S. economy since August 2009 and nearly 10 million people work in temporary jobs each year, OSHA reported.

In the past year alone, the number of temporary jobs increased by nearly 10 percent. And in March 2014, the economy added 28,500 temporary jobs — 15 percent of all job gains that month.

Thus, employers of all stripes — temporary staffing firms and their clients alike, need to shore up their efforts to ensure that adequate safety and health protections — including training — are in place for their temps.

OSHA inked an alliance with the American Staffing Association (ASA) in late May, in recognition of that fact.

As part of the alliance, OSHA and the ASA committed to work together to further protect temporary employees from workplace hazards.

“Through this alliance with ASA, we will increase outreach to staffing firms and host employers and provide information and education that is vital to protecting temporary workers,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in an ASA announcement of the initiative.

Occupational injuries and illnesses cost American businesses more than $53 billion a year — more than $1 billion a week — in workers’ compensation costs alone.

The agreement reflects “a growing body of research showing that temporary workers are at increased risk of workplace injury,” said an OSHA spokesperson. “Often temporary workers are new to a jobsite several times a year, and are not provided required safety training,” OSHA stated.

Stephen Dwyer, general counsel for the ASA, noted in a recent interview that “Under the law, staffing firm clients must treat temporary employers the same as they do regular, internal employees in terms of workplace training, policies and procedures.

“Whether someone is temporary or not doesn’t make a difference under OSHA,” he emphasized.

In many cases, in fact, temporary workers’ injuries are more pronounced. Last year, OSHA began receiving a series of reports about temporary workers suffering fatal injuries — many during their first days on the job.

“OSHA has known for decades that [all] workers who start a new job are at greater risk of injury,” said OSHA’s spokesperson. “New workers are often not adequately trained on the potential hazards at a new job site and the measures they can take to protect themselves.

“Temporary workers often perform the most dangerous jobs, have limited English proficiency and receive little safety training and instruction on protective measures,” said the administration spokesperson.

OSHA believes heightened temp worker safety will improve employers’ profitability, as well, since occupational injuries and illnesses cost American businesses more than $53 billion a year — more than $1 billion a week — in workers’ compensation costs alone.

“By identifying and controlling workplace risks and training workers, employers can reduce worker injuries and illnesses and the costs resulting from them, such as workers’ compensation rates, turnover and absenteeism. These costs can double when you add the many indirect costs to employers — such as the costs of down time for other employees as a result of an injury, investigations, claims adjustment, legal fees, and associated property damage,” the administration spokesperson stated.

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Finally, OSHA hopes the new alliance with the ASA will help both host employers and staffing agencies to realize they each have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements and that they share responsibility for ensuring worker safety and health.

“Training — which must be conducted in a language and manner understandable to the temporary worker — will enable temporary workers to understand the hazards of their jobs and what they can do to protect themselves while working,” OSHA said.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]