Michaels Reiterates Temp Worker Message

The Occupational Keynote session Sept. 16 at the NSC Conference & Expo featured the heads of OSHA and NIOSH discussing the challenges of protecting temporary workers.

SAN DIEGO -- The safety of temporary workers has been top-of-mind this year for Dr. David Michaels, the DOL assistant secretary in command of OSHA, and the Sept. 16 Occupational Keynote session during the 2014 National Safety Council Congress & Expo gave him another opportunity to stress its importance. NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard also took part in the discussion.

Howard began by showing graphs that illustrated the rapid growth of temporary employment in the United States prior to the 2008-2010 recession. "Over a significant period of time, you can see huge growth in this type of work," particularly in the South, he said, adding that a Washington state study showed there were higher comp claims for all injury types among temp workers than among permanent workers. During his tenure as the head of Cal/OSHA, the agency struggled with how to assign responsibility between host employers and temp agencies when a temporary worker was hurt, Howard said.

Michaels said more than 3 million workers in the United States currently are considered temporary workers, according to the American Staffing Association, which signed an alliance with OSHA earlier this year. Temps have a higer injury risk because they are new workers for whom training hasn't been completed yet, employers do not have the same commitment to temps as they do to permanent workers, and also employers who bear the risk of the injury do not control the level of health and safety investment at the location where the temporary worker is working.

Michaels discussed several recent OSHA enforcement cases that involved temporary workers. "We're getting the message out. Part of that is with large fines. Part of it also is with outreach and education," he said.

He said OSHA soon will release additional resource materials to help host employers and temp agencies with hazard assessment and other challenges.

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