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The joint responsibilities of staffing agencies and host employers to protect temporary workers from safety and health hazards on the job are assembled in a new guidance.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels made the announcement Aug. 25, 2014, at the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association annual conference in National Harbor, Md.
“An employer’s commitment to the safety of temporary workers should not mirror these workers’ temporary status,” said Michaels. “Whether temporary or permanent, all workers always have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. Staffing agencies and host employers are joint employers of temporary workers and both are responsible for providing and maintaining safe working conditions.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are co-publishers of the best-practice guidance.
The guidance focus on ensuring that staffing agencies and host employers collaborate to ensure that Occupational Safety and Health Act requirements are fully met. “The extent of the obligations of each employer will vary depending on workplace conditions and should therefore be described in the agreement or contract between the employers,” Michaels said. “Either the staffing agency or the host employer may be better suited to ensure compliance with a particular requirement, and may assume primary responsibility for it. The joint-employment structure requires effective communication and a common understanding of the division of responsibilities for safety and health.”
Michaels urged conference attendees to use their model workplace status to champion the recommended guidance. He singled out some attendee companies in the refinery industry that require contingent workers be certified as having been trained before showing up for work. Another example Michaels gave was GE Healthcare’s Tower Avenue plant in Milwaukee, which provides the same level of safety training to temporary workers as permanent employees.
“All temporary workers and contractors performing construction work [at the GE plant] are required to complete an eight-hour safety orientation and pass a quiz before they start working on that site,” Michaels said. “We want to see more programs like this,” he added.
The guidance closely follows a memo OSHA sent to its regional administrators emphasizing the agency’s focus on preventing occupational injuries and illnesses among temporary workers. The memo explained the purpose of the agency’s Temporary Worker Initiative, defined temporary workers, identified employer responsibilities and set out when to open an inspection.
Recommended Best Practices
Evaluate the host employer’s worksite. Staffing agencies and host employers should jointly review all worksites, tasks and job hazard analyses in order to identify and eliminate potential safety and health hazards and identify necessary training and protections, prior to entering into an employment relationship.
The staffing agency should report each worker’s specific training and competencies related to the tasks to be performed to the host employer. “Staffing agencies need not become experts on specific workplace hazards, but should determine what conditions exist at the worksite, what hazards may be encountered, and how to best ensure protection for the temporary workers,” the guidance said. Staffing agencies without dedicated safety and health professionals on staff should consider utilizing a third-party safety and health consultant or OSHA’s free on-site consultation service.
Train agency staff to recognize safety and health hazards. Staffing agency representatives will be better equipped to discover hazards and work with the host employer to eliminate or lessen identified hazards commonly faced by its temporary workers.
Ensure the employer meets or exceeds the other employer’s standards. When feasible, OSHA recommends joint employers share and review each other’s injury and illness prevention program. Host employers should request and review the safety training and any certification records of the temp workers who will be assigned to their job sites.
Assign safety and health responsibilities in the contract. When feasible, the agency-host contract should clearly state which employer is responsible for specific safety and health duties. This division of responsibilities should be reviewed regularly, OSHA said. “The tasks that the temporary worker is expected to perform, and the safety and health responsibilities of each employer, should be stated in the agency-host contract and should be communicated to the worker before that worker begins work at the job site.” For example, should the job require personal protective equipment, the contract should state what equipment will be needed and which employer will supply it.
Track injuries and illnesses. The parties should discuss a procedure to share injury and illness information between the employers, ideally specifying that procedure contractually, OSHA said. If a temporary worker is injured and the host employer knows about it, the staffing agency should be informed promptly. Equally, if a staffing agency learns of an injury, it should inform the host employer promptly so that future injuries might be prevented, and the case is recorded appropriately.
Both the host employer and staffing agency should track and where possible, investigate the cause of workplace injuries, the guidance said. However, for statistical purposes, OSHA requires that injury and illness records be kept by the employer who is providing day-to-day supervision, the host employer, generally. The agency-host contract should therefore identify the supervising employer and state that this employer is responsible for maintaining the temporary workers’ injury and illness records. “Employers cannot discharge or contract away responsibilities that pertain to them under law,” OSHA said. The contract should also specify which employer will make the records available upon request of an employee or an employee representative.
Conduct safety and health training. OSHA standards require site- and task-specific safety and health training in a language the workers understand. Training temp workers is a shared responsibility between the staffing agency and the host employer. “Staffing agencies should provide general safety and health training applicable to different occupational settings, and host employers provide specific training tailored to the particular hazards at their workplaces,” OSHA recommended.
The agency also recommended that host employers and staffing agencies each provide—separately or jointly—safety and health orientations for all temporary workers on new projects or newly placed on existing projects. The orientation should include information on general worker-protection rights and workplace safety and health.
Host employers should provide temporary workers with safety training that is identical or equivalent to that provided to the host employers’ own employees performing the same or similar work, OSHA said.
Temps should be provided with information on how to report an injury and obtain treatment and on emergency procedures including exit routes on every job assignment.
Establish an injury and illness prevention program. OSHA and NIOSH recommended that staffing agencies and host employers each have a safety and health program and ensure that their temporary workers understand it and participate in it. The employers’ safety programs should be communicated at the start of each new project, whenever new temporary workers are brought onto an existing project, or whenever new hazards are introduced into the workplace.
Investigate incidents. It is critical that both the staffing agency and host employer jointly conduct thorough investigations of injuries and illnesses, including incidents of close-calls, in order to determine what the root causes were, what immediate corrective actions are necessary, and what opportunities exist to improve injury and illness prevention programs.
Maintain contact with workers. The staffing agency should establish methods to maintain contact with temporary workers. The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and, to the extent feasible, verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace. “This can be as simple as the agency representatives touching base with the workers throughout the temporary assignment, such as when the representatives are at the site to meet with the host employer or to drop off paychecks, or by phone or e-mail,” the guidance said.
The staffing agency should have a written procedure for workers to report any hazards and instances when tasks are altered by the host employer from those previously agreed upon.
Some staffing agencies have a hotline for their workers to report problems at the host employer’s worksite. The staffing agency distributes this phone number during the orientation.
Even though OSHA points out that these recommendations are for the purpose of guidance, host employers and staffing agencies “may be certain that this new guidance will be the yard stick that OSHA inspectors use to evaluate their policies, training programs and work sites,” said Meagan Newman, environmental and safety attorney at Seyfarth Shaw.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him @SHRMRoy
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