Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Worker Safety Groups, Public Health Professionals Release Recommendations to OSHA on Temporary Worker Safety

Reliance on temporary help has grown tremendously since the recession, with temporary workers accounting for 15% of all job growth in the past 4 years. However, confusion and ambiguity over the roles both host employers and temporary agencies play in the safety and well-being of these workers has left them vulnerable to injuries, illnesses or worse.

To address the issues associated with an overwhelming number of temporary worker incidents in the past few years, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), the National Staffing Workers Alliance and the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association (AHPA) developed and presented 15 recommendations to OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels on Nov. 2, 2013, urging the agency to improve safety and health conditions for temporary workers. Clarifying health and safety responsibilities in dual-employer settings topped the list, followed by recommendations concerning targeting and tracking more data and improving the inspection process to bring more attention to temporary workers.

"Temp workers fall through the cracks," says Linda Delp, chair of APHA's Occupational Health and Safety Section. "From a public health perspective, we need to know where they're working, who's injured on the job and how, so we can improve working conditions, but [currently] there are not clear lines of reporting and responsibility for worker safety."

OSHA has addressed this issue in the past, Michaels says. In addition to an April 2013 memo in which the agency advised area directors to ensure that field inspectors assess whether employer of temporary workers are complying with the OSH Act, the agency is currently working on a proposal that would require employers to provide their 300 injury summary log data so that it can be publicly posted.
These initiatives still leave out some very important issues the safety groups say. Temp workers lack health benefits and sick leave, says Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. The nature of the work causes job insecurity and many temps are more afraid to raise concerns about hazards for fear of losing their job, she continues.
“Many [temporary workers] receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the jobsite, but are reluctant to mention that to employers so that they aren’t replaced," says Tom O’Connor, executive director of COSH. "At the same time, temporary workers are employed in some of the country’s most hazardous jobs, including waste recycling, fish processing and construction. Unfortunately, this has led to several temporary workers being killed on the job in recent months.”

Statistics suggest many temporary workers are injured or killed due to insufficient training, protection, fear and a lack of understanding says Goldstein-Gelb, but the recommendations made by the coalition of workplace safety groups and public health professionals can help address some of these issues.
The recommendations ask that OSHA initiate a National Emphasis Program in high-hazard industries that use temporary staffing agencies and identify the 20 largest temporary staffing agencies in high-hazard industries to more easily identify these major employers. Inspectors are encouraged to hold both temporary staffing agencies and host employers responsible for ensuring that temporary workers receive proper training, appropriate safety equipment and that they report all injuries to temporary workers appropriately. In addition to these recommendations, they ask federal OSHA to facilitate cross-training of compliance officers with COSH groups and Worker Centers to ensure that a clear understanding of procedures and to promote collaborative efforts to protect temporary workers.

Click here for the full list of recommendations.