#VPPPA32 Speaker Answers Temp Worker Questions

Both the host employer and the staffing agency may be held responsible for safety violations, Norman R. Deitch, OHST, explained during a session at the conference.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Many people don't understand that temporary work, in today's U.S. economy, isn't part-time work. Temporary employment is now a cornerstone of the economy, with 3 million people working for staffing companies and 11 million temporary and contract workers hired annually by staffing companies, Norman R. Deitch, OHST, senior vice president of EHS Excellence Consulting (Iselin, N.J.), explained during an Aug. 30 session at the 32nd Annual National VPPPA Safety & Health Conference here.

"Temporary doesn't mean part time," Deitch explained. "Temporary means full time for a lot of people." To illustrate, he asked his audience to raise their hands if their companies use temporary or contract workers, and more than half of those in the audience raised a hand.

Temporary work has expanded fast: There were 1 million workers doing it in 1990, about 1 percent of the U.S. workforce, but the number had risen to 2.3 million by 2008, and more workers in higher-skilled occupations were temporarily employed than in prior years, he said. The allure of temporary labor is clear: USing them may cut costs, lower a company's liability, and filled needed slots when permanent help is unavailable.

But there are downsides, he said:

  • New employees are at greater risk than seasoned ones, and many temporary workers are new to a job site several times a year or even several times a week.
  • Some host employers don't want to spend the needed resources on training.
  • Temporary workers often are placed in the most hazardous jobs.
  • Temporary workers are more vulnerable to (and fearful of) retaliation.

Both the host employer and the staffing agency may be held responsible for safety violations, Deitch said, adding that communication between host and the staffing company is vital. Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire about the conditions of the workplace to which they are sending workers and to verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibility to provide a safe workplace, he explained.

He recommended reading OSHA's resources on temporary workers and its enforcement actions taken against staffing companies in the wake of some worker injuries.

"The big key is, who is supervising the work?" Deitch said. "Who is directing and supervising the work?"

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