Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine employer responsibilities for temporary workers.
Do you clearly understand your responsibilities as a host employer for the health and safety of temporary workers?
While you have sole responsibility for the health and safety of your permanent employees, you have a shared responsibility for the health and safety of temporary workers at your facility or worksite.
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, host employers and staffing companies are both responsible for temporary workers’ health and safety. OSHA inspectors frequently cite both staffing agencies and host employers for workplace safety and health violations. In some instances, however, the agency has imposed higher penalties on the host employer than the staffing company that hired a temporary worker.
Factors contributing to temporary workers’ increased risk include:
- Being the “new guy” at the workplace who’s unfamiliar with the job and its tasks;
- Lack of communication or insufficient communication among the host employer, the staffing company, and temporary workers;
- Lack of training or insufficient training; and
- Unexpected changes to their job duties that are not reported to the staffing company.
However, temporary workers also tend to be younger than permanent employees, and younger workers experience higher rates of injury than older workers. Temporary workers also sometimes do not get the necessary safety training; one study showed that over 40% of temporary workers reported never receiving safety training from either their staffing company or their host employer, while only 25% of permanent workers reported receiving no safety training.
Last year, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a series of “best practices” for host employers along with the National Occupational Research Agenda Services Sector Council, the American Society for Safety Professionals (ASSP), the American Staffing Association, and the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program. The publication (DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2022-126) included a series of checklists and an accompanying slide deck.
An earlier (2014) NIOSH and OSHA publication, “Recommended Practices:
Protecting Temporary Workers,” covers best practices for both host employers and staffing companies.
There are three broad categories of host employer best practices:
- Contracting and evaluation of jobs, organization, and worksites;
- Training for temporary workers and their worksite supervisors; and
- Injury and illness reporting, response, and recordkeeping.
Contracting and evaluation
The written contract you make with a staffing company needs to cover pertinent job details; responsibilities for communication and documentation; injury and illness reporting, response, and recordkeeping responsibilities; and other aspects of health and safety like facility or site security, infectious disease prevention and response, medical screening and surveillance, supervision and on-the-job mentorship, and workers’ compensation.
Your contract should also spell out what job tasks temporary workers are approved to perform, as well as what (hazardous) tasks they are not allowed to perform and what equipment and machinery they are not allowed to operate. Your contract should additionally specify the qualifications or experience required to perform jobs at your facility or site.
Other pertinent job details include:
- Anticipated hazards and controls in place to protect against them.
- Training that each employer will provide. Most often, the staffing company will provide general health and safety awareness training, and you will need to provide job- and site-specific training.
- Who will pay for and supply personal protective equipment (PPE), who will ensure workers have the appropriate PPE and that it fits correctly, who will conduct any necessary medical evaluation, and who will perform training on the proper use and maintenance of PPE.
Moreover, your contract with a staffing company needs to spell out what documentation the staffing company will provide you regarding temporary workers’ experience and qualifications. You also need to agree to regular intervals for periodic joint risk assessments. Your contract also should detail how you will inform the staffing company of changes in job tasks and hazards.
Your contract should detail procedures for temporary workers to report injuries and illnesses, close calls or “near misses,” and health and safety concerns. The contract with the staffing company also should detail workers’ compensation responsibilities and procedures for medical treatment and return to work.
The contract should specify how you and the staffing company will protect temporary workers from infectious diseases like COVID-19, influenza, and tuberculosis. Your prevention and response policies and procedures should be the same for temporary workers as for your permanent employees.
Evaluation procedures should include an initial joint risk assessment to go over anticipated exposures, assigned facilities or worksites to identify potential safety and health hazards and the training and PPE temporary workers will need, equipment and machinery at the facility or on-site, job hazard analyses, temporary workers’ task assignments, and written job descriptions.
You also might invite a representative from the staffing company to visit your facility or worksites to conduct a walk-through, assessing the safety conditions, observing workers
engaged in their tasks, and evaluating your safety program in action. However, you also will want to review the staffing company’s training materials so you understand the level of temporary workers’ general understanding of workplace health and safety. If you discover any shortcomings in the staffing company’s training, you will want to document those and forward any training recommendations to the staffing company.
Temporary worker and supervisor training
You need to provide temporary workers with job- and site-specific safety and health training, of course, but you also need to train those who will be supervising temporary workers. Supervisors must clearly understand what tasks temporary workers are approved to perform and what equipment and machinery they are or are not allowed to operate.
Additionally, they need to understand your company’s and the staffing company’s agreed-upon responsibilities for hazard communication, injury and illness reporting, PPE, and training, as well as your procedures for handling changes to job tasks. They also should have a firm grasp of OSHA’s laws and regulations, workers’ rights and responsibilities, and their responsibilities as a representative of a host employer.
The temporary workers’ training should cover the following:
- Their approved job tasks and the equipment and machinery they are allowed to or not allowed to operate;
- Site- and task-specific hazards and the controls in place to protect them;
- Any necessary PPE and how to don, adjust, remove, and maintain it;
- Employer responsibilities and workers’ rights and responsibilities under OSHA’s laws and regulations;
- Exit routes and emergency procedures, as well as how to obtain first-aid treatment;
- How to report injuries and illnesses or health and safety concerns; and
- How they can participate in your health and safety management program, including hazard-specific programs, safety meetings or committees, scheduled training, and toolbox talks.
You will want to evaluate temporary workers’ understanding of the training they’ve received and may need to schedule repeat training to fill any gaps in their health and safety knowledge.
Reporting, response, and recordkeeping
You will want to ensure that temporary workers understand how to report accidents, close calls or “near misses,” health and safety concerns, and injuries and illnesses; include it as part of your facility- or site-specific training. You should inform the staffing company immediately of any work-related injury, illness, or near miss, and it is your responsibility to notify the staffing company when your facility or worksite is under OSHA investigation.
The staffing company should be made aware of the hazards its employees face, and it needs to immediately file workers’ compensation claims for a work-related injury or illness.
Of course, you also are responsible for reporting fatalities to OSHA within 8 hours and injuries and illnesses involving amputation, in-patient hospitalization, or the loss of an eye within 24 hours.
In response to work-related injuries and illnesses, you and the staffing company need to conduct joint incident investigations to determine root causes and identify necessary corrective actions and opportunities to improve your respective injury and illness prevention or safety and health management programs. You also will need to coordinate medical treatment and the worker’s return to work.
OSHA requires that injury and illness records be kept by the employer that is providing day-to-day supervision, so you will need to record temporary workers’ injuries and illnesses on your OSHA 300 Log. You also will need to complete workers’ compensation documentation for the staffing company’s compensation claim and may need to provide records specified in your contract with the staffing company.
In addition to the 2014 NIOSH/OSHA “Recommended Practices: Protecting Temporary Workers,” OSHA has published a number of bulletins outlining recommended
practices regarding joint safety and health responsibilities, which are available at https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers/.
Other resources include the ASSP Z10 Guidance Manual, which outlines safety and health management programs for small or medium organizations, and the ANSI/ASSP A10.33 Standard for multiemployer worksites in the construction and demolition industries.
Focus on HazCom responsibilities
OSHA’s Hazard Communication (HazCom) standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1910.1200) is the agency’s second most frequently cited standard—it cited 2,424 violations in fiscal year (FY) 2022. Therefore, you need to focus on temporary workers’ instruction and training in workplace chemical safety.
As a host employer, you are the “supervising” employer, providing day-to-day supervision of temporary workers and controlling the means and manner of their work.
Given that OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) may cite both you and the staffing company supplying temporary labor, you need to coordinate HazCom instruction and training responsibilities with the staffing company.
During an inspection, OSHA inspectors will interview workers and supervisors and observe both permanent and temporary workers performing their duties to assess whether training at the workplace complies with the agency standard.
Temporary workers’ facility- or site-specific training becomes critical during an agency inspection of your HazCom program. While staffing companies are responsible for their workers’ general HazCom training, you should confirm that the temporary workers they supply understand the elements of chemical labels and know how to access to safety data sheets (SDSs) at your facility or worksite.
A fully compliant HazCom program relies on the use of chemical labels, SDSs, and instruction and training in the hazards of chemicals in the workplace and how employees (both permanent and temporary) can protect themselves.
While your company and the staffing company share responsibility for temporary workers’ health and safety training, the relationship will be smoother if responsibilities are detailed in your contract and your facility- or site-specific supervision and training are robust.