By Martha J. Zackin
On April 29, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an initiative to protect temporary employees from workplace hazards. The initiative, announced through a press release and a memorandum sent to all of OSHA’s regional administrators, directs field inspectors to assess whether employers who use temporary workers are complying with their responsibilities under the OSH Act.
Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations. Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand.
The initiative follows on the heels of a spike in reports of temporary workers suffering fatal injuries on the job. In many cases, OSHA reports, the employer failed to provide safety training or, if some instruction was given, it inadequately addressed the hazard, and this failure contributed to their death.
OSHA field inspectors are now directed to determine within the scope of their inspections whether any employees are temporary workers and whether any of the identified temporary employees are exposed to a violative condition. In addition, inspectors are directed to assess – using both records review and interviews – whether those workers have received required training in a language and vocabulary they understand. A new OIS code has been established to identify temporary workers. In addition, field inspectors are directed to identify the workers’ staffing company, the company’s location, and the supervising structure under which the temporary workers are reporting (i.e., the extent to which the temporary workers are being supervised on a day-to-day basis either by the staffing client or the staffing agency).
OSHA has also begun working with the American Staffing Association and employers that use staffing agencies, to promote best practices ensuring that temporary workers are protected from job hazards.
Both staffing firms and companies that use temporary workers are required to provide safe workplaces, as well as necessary safety and health training regarding workplace hazards. Although allocation of safety-related duties and responsibilities should be clearly spelled out in contracts between staffing firms and client companies, both entities may be held liable by OSHA and the courts. Please consult your employment counsel and OSHA consultants for further information and assistance.