Worker safety groups release recommendations on temporary worker safety

A coalition of workplace safety groups, worker centres and public health professionals has released recommendations to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for how the agency can improve health and safety conditions for temporary workers, some of the country’s most vulnerable employees.
The groups presented their recommendations to David Michaels, the head of OSHA, during a Temporary Worker Health and Safety Forum in Boston held for advocates, academics and organizers. OSHA currently is developing policies to better protect temporary workers on the job.

The recommendations ranged from compelling OSHA inspectors to learn about how temporary workers were trained and what safety materials they received to requiring that employers provide a roster of all workers employed the day of an OSHA investigation and their job titles (both for permanent and temporary employees) so that OSHA may select whomever it wishes to interview.

Other recommendations addressed the need to hold both temporary staffing agencies and host employers responsible for ensuring that temporary workers receive adequate training before facing on-the-job hazards and for recording any injuries that temporary workers may endure.

“Temp workers fall through the cracks,” said Linda Delp, director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program and chair of the American Public Health Association’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 there are not clear lines of reporting and responsibility for worker safety.”

Temporary workers are even more vulnerable to on-the-job hazards than permanent employees, said Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. Many receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the job site, but are reluctant to mention that to employers, he said.

"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.”

Companies’ reliance on temporary work has skyrocketed during the recent recession, with temporary help accounting for 15 per cent of all job growth nationally during the past four years. The reliability of the data is dubious because some companies may not admit to using temporary labor.

“Jobs that were once direct hires with benefits are now temporary and precarious — rarely leading to permanent work with benefits, but often leading to injuries — as untrained workers are ill-prepared to deal with workplace hazards,” said Michael Muñoz, director of the National Staffing Workers Alliance, which gives a national voice to temporary workers.