Safety advocates want OSHA to take several steps, including establishing a National Emphasis Program, to strengthen safety and health protections for temporary workers.

OSHA Urged to Launch Temp Worker Emphasis Program

The agency's assistant secretary, Dr. David Michaels, has spoken repeatedly about the issue of temporary workers' safety. A group of safety advocates has drawn up 15 recommendations to address the issue.

A coalition of workplace safety groups has presented 15 recommendations to OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels that urge his agency to improve safety and health conditions for temporary workers. This is an issue Michaels has addressed repeatedly, including during a Nov. 2 forum on the topic these groups held in Boston during the American Public Health Association's annual meeting. OSHA's national office issued a memo in April 2013 directing area directors to ensure that field inspectors assess whether those who employ temps are complying with the OSH Act.

Michaels told the gathering that OSHA is working on a proposal that would require employers to provide their 300 injury summary log data -- while millions of employers must post this summary for their workers to see, a only a few thousand companies per year must submit theirs to the federal government -- so it can be publicly posted.

The top two recommendations concern clarifying health and safety responsibilities in dual-employer settings. Tom O'Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health; Linda Delb, chair of APHA's Occupational Health and Safety Section; and Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, among the groups that developed the recommendations, said Nov. 4 that confusion about safety and health responsibilities is common. Goldstein-Gelb described a "burgeoning underground economy" of temp workers in the Boston area, including some who are being sent to dangerous jobs such as demolition and recycling. Massachusetts has a temporary worker right-to-know law in place that requires employers to provide written job description to these workers, including necessary PPE and who will provide it, she said, adding that the groups want to ensure OSHA field personnel ask questions about whether injured workers are temps and who their temp agency is, in order to ensure recordkeeping is accurate. "There's just a lot more digging OSHA is going to have to do," she said.

"Temp workers fall through the cracks," said Delp, who is also director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program. "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. Many receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the job site, but are reluctant to mention that to employers so that they aren't replaced," O'Connor 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."

Goldstein-Gelb highlighted risk factors that are characteristic of temp work: they lack health benefits and sick leave, the nature of the work causes job insecurity, which causes stress; temps are more afraid to raise concerns about hazards for fear of losing their job; they’re new to the job, so they're on a learning curve of how to do the work and how to do so safely.

The recommendations ask that OSHA initiate a National Emphasis Program in high-hazard industries that use temporary staffing agencies and also identify the 20 largest temporary staffing agencies in the client high-hazard industries (including construction, manufacturing, warehousing, health care, transportation, etc.) and repeat offenders, and put together a profile of these agencies so that compliance officers would learn to quickly recognize that they are dealing with a major employer, not just an agency isolated to the location inspected. They say OSHA needs to provide consistent training to compliance officers to improve their process for investigating joint employer status. To that end, one recommendation is that OSHA require employers to provide a roster of all workers employed the day of the investigation and their job titles so OSHA can select people to interview.

Michaels, speaking at the Nov. 2 forum, urged the advocates to develop relationships with OSHA's area offices to made sure their concerns are heard.

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