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Protecting Temporary Workers

Aug 01, 2022

The concept of work—how it is performed, where and by whom—has been evolving rapidly over the past few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated these changes. The transformations in employment patterns and relationships are creating many challenges for employers with respect to recruitment and retention. These trends are also impacted by the aging workforce, gender and racial inequalities, and potential displacements caused by emerging technologies.

In addition to these concerns, most organizations are grappling with the consequences of the Great Resignation. This has prompted many organizations to turn to gig, contract and temporary workers as they look to fill gaps and fulfill the tasks once performed by those who left. Temporary workers have long played a role in helping businesses continue operations, meet goals and satisfy customers, and this role is taking on greater importance in today’s employment landscape.

As OSH professionals, we need to amplify our efforts to make sure our organizations recognize and effectively address the safety and health needs of provisional workers. It is well documented that temporary workers face higher risk of work-related injuries for a variety of reasons. This may be because they are unfamiliar with their assigned tasks or they have not received appropriate training to perform their jobs safely.

Such outcomes are often the result of poor communication between the host employer and the staffing company. As joint employers of temporary workers, both are responsible for providing and maintaining a safe work environment. That is why developing a relationship founded on cooperation and collaboration is critical. For a joint employment structure to succeed, all stakeholders must share an understanding of the division of responsibilities for safety and health. 

Several resources are available to help guide our efforts to protect temporary workers. One great example is the 2014 recommended practices document developed by OSHA and NIOSH. Another is a new publication developed by NIOSH in collaboration with ASSP and the American Staffing Association (ASA).

These resources highlight a range of processes, policies and programs that organizations can employ to protect their temporary workforces. I would like to highlight a few steps I have found valuable in helping my clients understand and address common risks.

  • Use a reputable staffing company. Performing due diligence and research ahead of bringing on temporary workers will help you identify staffing agencies that meet your needs. Be sure to ask prospective partners how they recruit and retain workers; discuss what types of training, screening and testing they conduct; and confirm that they share your organization’s commitment to worker safety and health.
  • Put your agreement in writing. A contract will ensure that all involved understand their respective roles and responsibilities. This is particularly important for safety and health, as these responsibilities sometimes overlap. A written agreement helps both parties identify and confirm which of them is better suited to manage specific OSH requirements.
  • Conduct a joint risk assessment. Much like a contract defines expectations, developing a shared understanding of the work hazards involved will lead to better worker protections. As noted in the new NIOSH/ASSP/ASA document, this process should encompass all task assignments, written job descriptions, anticipated exposures, job hazard analyses, equipment, machinery and work sites. When possible, it also is helpful to have staffing agency personnel conduct a site visit.
  • Provide appropriate safety and health training. Training is a shared responsibility. In many cases, the staffing firm will provide general safety and health training, while the host employer delivers training that covers site- and task-specific hazards. In all cases, it is critical that a host employer provides temporary workers with safety training that is identical or equivalent to the training provided to its permanent employees who perform the same or similar work.

These four steps are just a few of the actions we can take to help better protect our temporary workers and reinforce our organizations’ commitment to providing a safe, healthy workplace for all workers. 


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