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Temporary/Contingent Worker Safety

The staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry makes a vital contribution to the U.S. economy every year. It provides outstanding job and career opportunities for approximately 16 million employees annually. In 2013, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched its Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) focused on compliance with health and safety requirements for workers that are employed under the joint or dual employment of a staffing firm and host employer. According to OSHA, both host employers and staffing firms have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements and share a responsibility for ensuring worker protection and care.

Through the years, OSHA has responded to complaints and concerns that have resulted in the introduction of the TWI. Some of the key factors behind the new initiative were:

  • A lack of guidance on training responsibility and compliance obligations for temporary workers
  • Temporary workers being placed in a variety of jobs, including some of the most hazardous positions
  • Temporary workers being more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards than workers in traditional employment relationships
  • Temporary workers often being given inadequate health and safety training or explanations of their duties by either the temporary staffing agency or the host employer

The key message of the TWI is that staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe work environment for temporary workers. This means that both the staffing agency and host employer are responsible for fulfilling their obligations with OSHA-required recordkeeping and training requirements. If they do not, both the staffing agency and the host employer can be cited. Staffing agencies provide general health and safety training, but it frequently lacks information required by OSHA standards, such as task-specific hazards and control measures. The host employer must provide training that is tailored to the particular job and workplace or environment.

When determining which entity should provide the required training, OSHA specifies that “the party in the best position to control the means and manner of work has an obligation to protect the worker performing it.” This highlights the importance of identifying which entity is making decisions about the work and who is supervising it. These factors should be discussed prior to work commencing and should ideally be contractually outlined in staffing agencies’ contracts or terms of agreements.

Communication and Collaboration

Communication is imperative to ensure that the host employer and agency are providing a unified effort for the ultimate protection of the worker. Some key points host employers should consider:

  • Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the worksite safety conditions of their assigned workers.
  • Staffing agencies do not need to become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at the client’s worksite, what hazards may be encountered, and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers who will be placed there.
  • The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host employer has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
  • Most importantly, host employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training, safety, and health protections. They cannot be given a quick or modified version of training if they are performing the same function/role as a host employer’s employee.

Qualified Candidates

One of the most critical components in ensuring temporary worker safety lies in the worker selection process. Host employers need to find workers who are dependable, reliable, capable of doing the required job, and not impaired or impeded from performing the required tasks. Worker selection criteria pertains to using all legally available methods to screen candidates and match them to jobs that they are capable of performing. The host employer should provide a detailed job description to the staffing agency so they can best source the appropriate candidate(s) for the task at hand.

An effective way for host employers to ensure this happens is to verify that their selected staffing agency has a written candidate screening policy and follows these established processes. Auditing staffing agencies ensures that they are following their own policies. A staffing agency that uses a methodical safety approach is one that collects information from or about candidates during the application process or post-conditional job offer (CJO) for purposes of candidate evaluation.

Prevent the Injury

When a staffing firm does not conduct due diligence in matching the physical demands and skills required for the job to a worker’s capabilities, it can lead to increased temporary worker injuries and higher workers’ compensation costs. Some of this can be handled in the screening process or can be discovered through additional medical screening, where permitted by law.

Here are a couple of best practices for host employers before onboarding temporary workers:

  • Ensure that the candidate(s) have been fully informed about the physical demands and essential job functions of each assignment.
  • Ensure there is a system in place for the worker to verify that what they were hired to do (staffing agency job description) matches the work actually being performed at the host employer’s site.

The table below clearly shows that the Injury-Risk Ratio (IRR) for temporary workers is considerably higher when compared to non-temporary workers. This ratio is particularly high for temporary workers in higher-risk industries than their non-temporary counterparts:


This table identifies an even higher risk ratio when specific injury types are taken into consideration from temporary to non-temporary employees:

Change in Worker Duties

It is not uncommon for temporary workers to be hired for one type of work and, then at the last minute, the host employer changes the requirements of the position and assignment. The main issue with a host employer changing work duties, equipment, and worksites is that training may have only been provided for the originally assigned job. Any time the host employer changes any of these conditions, additional training must be provided by the host employer. This would include a job transfer, working at a different worksite, operating a new piece of machinery or equipment, or the use of different Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In short, remember that temporary/contingent labor is no different than a full-time overhead employee at a host employer’s site. They simply receive a paycheck that comes from a different source. Communication between the host employer and the staffing agency remains one of the most crucial elements for a safe and successful co-employment relationship. Both the host employer and the staffing agency should adopt the mindset of safety never being “good enough.” This will spur activities that will continually focus on the betterment of policies, practices, and business decisions while supporting both temporary workers and company personnel safety. It is this momentum to continuously improve that will set the staffing firm and the host employer apart from the competition.

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