National Initiative Focuses on Temporary Workers
An untrained temporary worker dies his third day on the job after suffering heat stroke. Another dies from excessive heat while cleaning up debris on the deck of the USS Nitze.
The stories have prompted a warning from the head of OSHA to better protect the needs and rights of temporary workers. Writing an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Dr. David Michaels says recent cases have prompted a national initiative.
“Over the last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has received far too many reports of workers killed in their first few days at work,” Michaels wrote. “Most of these have been temporary workers. We have known for a century that new workers are at increased risk for occupational injury and fatality, and that higher risk is due to a lack of safety training and experience at that work site.”
Temp workers are often brought into a job for just a few days, weeks, or months. They lower costs for employers, who don’t need to make long-term hiring commitments.
“As our economy picks up steam, these numbers are rising again, and more employers are filling jobs with temporary workers,” Michaels wrote. “As their numbers grow, I fear that too many more will be injured or killed.”
Safety training provided for permanent employees is often skipped for short-term workers, Michaels said. Sometimes, employers assume a staffing agency has conducted the training.
“So as the number of temporary workers rises, is it inevitable that injuries and fatalities will rise as well?” Michaels asks. “I refuse to accept that assumption. We know why these workers are getting hurt and we know how to stop it.”
Michaels says staffing agencies and their client employees are both obligated to protect workers and keep work sites free of recognized hazards. Safety training in a language the workers understand is part of that responsibility.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has embarked on a national initiative to protect temporary workers in order to halt this rising toll of fatal injuries,” the op-ed states. “Agency inspectors will determine, in every inspection, if every temporary worker on the site has received the safety training and protections required by law for the job. If they haven’t, we will hold their employers accountable.”
The agency is also contacting labor staffing agencies to explain they must ensure their employees are not placed at risk while working. “We’re not going to wait for another worker to be killed,” Michaels said. “No worker’s first week on the job should be the last week of his life.”