An initiative to help protect temporary workers from workplace hazards was announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency said it’s taking action after reports of temporary workers suffering fatal injuries.
The effort includes a memorandum sent to OSHA’s regional administrators directing field inspectors to assess whether employers who use temporary workers are complying with the law. To view the memo, click here.
Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations. In addition, inspectors will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language they could understand.
OSHA made the announcement on Workers’ Memorial Day.
“On Workers’ Memorial Day, we mourn the loss of the thousands of workers who die each year on the job from preventable hazards,” says David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Many of those killed and injured are temporary workers who often perform the most dangerous jobs have limited English proficiency and are not receiving the training and protective measures required. Workers must be safe, whether they’ve been on the job for one day or for 25 years.”
OSHA said it received a series of reports about temporary workers suffering fatal injuries in recent months. Many were workers on the first days on the job.
The Center for Public Integrity in a report described the case of a temporary worker who died after being burned by chemicals in November 2011 in Chicago. The worker’s bosses refused to call 911, according to the center’s report.
The staffing buyer, Raani Corp. in Belford Park, Ill., received 14 safety and health violations from OSHA. The agency proposed $473,000 in penalties for Raani, which makes healthcare items, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and household and salon products. The company employs approximately 150 workers, half of whom are temporary day workers, OSHA reported last July.
And earlier this year, OSHA cited Bacardi Bottling Corp. over the death of a temporary worker on his first day at work at a site in Jacksonville, Fla.
Historically, temp workers can fall through large cracks, says Scott Harris, who leads occupational health and risk management services for UL Workplace Health and Safety. Staffing buyers have responsibility to report injuries. However, that has not always occurred, and nonreporting remains a common practice today.
The new OSHA effort will result in inspectors differentiating between temporary workers and permanent workers, Harris says. It will include determining how temporary workers are being treated and whether they tend to be placed in “violative conditions.”
OSHA’s action is a big deal, he says. In the past, issues regarding temporary workers had been handled on a case-by-case basis. This is a formal and coordinated effort to identify and protect these workers.
“They’re going to make sure all these temporary workers are being treated and trained equally when it comes to safety,” Harris says. “This is a huge crack that these folks have been slipping through.”
Also, included in the OSHA memo is a check on whether workers received training in a language they understand. For example, Spanish-only speaking workers should get training in Spanish. And now OSHA inspectors will verify that such workers have received training in their language and that they understood it.
Harris recently wrote an article on temporary workers and safety reporting on the Society for Human Resource Management website.