EHS Administration, Personnel Safety

NIOSH Releases Best Practices for Temporary Workers

On July 18, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced the release of a new set of best practices for protecting temporary workers. The resources for host employers and staffing companies include the Protecting temporary workers: best practices for host employers manual, a checklist, and a slide deck presentation.

Temporary workers, or “temporary agency workers,” are paid by a staffing company and assigned to a host employer on both short- and long-term assignments. Both the host employer and the staffing agency are responsible for temporary workers’ safety and health. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) frequently cites both host employers and staffing companies for safety and health violations.

For example, OSHA recently issued a hazard alert letter to Amazon and its contracted logistics firms after six contractors were fatally injured and another severely injured when a tornado struck Amazon’s warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois.

“Amidst a pandemic, the importance of keeping workers safe and healthy has never been more important,” NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, said in an agency statement.

“By following these best practices, host employers can do their part to optimize the safety and health of their workers, both permanent and temporary.”

The best practices are organized into three sections:

  • Evaluation and contracting;
  • Training for temporary workers and their worksite supervisors; and
  • Injury and illness reporting, response, and recordkeeping.

The checklists cover all three sections. NIOSH is providing the slide deck for staffing companies to use to educate their host employer clients about the best practices.

OSHA also has a temporary worker resource page explaining the joint safety and health responsibilities of host employers and staffing companies.

OSHA recommends that temporary staffing companies and host employers establish their respective responsibilities for compliance with OSHA standards in their contracts.

The agency has expressed concerns that some employers use temporary workers as a way to avoid meeting all their compliance obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and other worker protection laws, asserting that:

  • Temporary workers get placed in a variety of jobs, including the most hazardous jobs.
  • Temporary workers are more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards than workers in traditional employment relationships.
  • Temporary workers are more vulnerable to retaliation.

OSHA also contends that temporary workers often are not given adequate safety and health training or explanations of their duties by either the temporary staffing agency or the host employer.

According to NIOSH, the future of work comes with new challenges to occupational safety and health, including how to best protect and promote the well-being of temporary workers, especially those in higher-hazard industries.

The new best practices for employers were developed by NIOSH and its National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Services Sector Council in partnership with the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), American Staffing Association (ASA), and Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program within the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Washington is a state plan state with its own workplace safety and health program.

The NORA Services Sector Council will host a related webinar on August 30 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET to provide an overview of the best practices. Registration can be found online.

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