Contractor Concern On the Rise

I considered several topics for this column. The Family and Medical Leave Act revisions taking effect Jan. 16 and the new DHS security rule for freight and passenger railroads are important enough. But then I saw a “Safety Sense” bulletin about contractor employees from MSHA, and that did it.

Contractor employees are everywhere, despite a fast-rising national unemployment rate.While the oil patch is one industry where contract workers have been essential for years, now contract labor is doing everything from military operations and security to mining to cleaning meatpacking plants. In their June 2008 “Hidden Tragedy” report, majority staffers for the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee cited contracting out of dangerous work as a factor in the widespread underreporting of injuries because those injuries and illnesses aren’t listed on the main employer’s 300 log.

More and more mine operators are contracting their mining operations, MSHA’s bulletin pointed out. At the same time, it said, contractor employees are involved in an increasing number of incidents and fatalities— including 10 of 26 fatal injuries in 2008 as of Nov. 14.

Some statistics from these contractor deaths:

• 90 percent involved machinery or powered haulage

• 40 percent of the victims had less than three years’ mining experience, and 30 percent had less than one year’s experience

• 60 percent had less than one year with their current contractor

• 40 percent of the deaths occurred on a Friday; none occurred on Thursday, Saturday, or Sunday

I’m sure it makes financial sense to employ contractors, who may bring specialized expertise to a job. But keeping injuries off your OSHA log isn’t an acceptable reason. As MSHA pointed out, the hiring employer is responsible for confirming that contract workers have received adequate training before they start a job, even if they received some of that training at another mine or site.

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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