7 Tips to Manage Temporary Worker Safety & Health

How to Manage Temporary Worker Safety and Health

It’s not surprising to hear that temporary workers are more likely to get injured on the job than permanent employees. Temporary employees have less incentive to ensure safety, they are often under-trained and they are in unfamiliar work environments. In addition, companies are not responsible for paying for workers’ comp for temporary employees. That’s the responsibility of the staffing agency. As a result host employers, they are not as motivated to ensure thorough training and compliance to standards…But they should be. With the rise in temporary workers at so many organizations, it’s even more critical that employers know the steps you must be taking with your temporary workforce. Let’s take a closer look.

Who Is Responsible?

The question often arises: who is responsible…staffing firm or host employer? When you have a temporary work arrangement with a staffing firm, host employers and the staffing firm are both responsible for the safety and health of temporary workers. That can cause confusion at times, but keep in mind OSHA’s stance: whoever is best suited to support the safety of the temporary worker must be the one who is doing so.  At the same time, both staffing firm and host employer share responsibility for the workers’ safety, so it’s in both parties best interest to be sure the other is doing what they are obligated to do. To begin to clarify who is responsible for what when it comes to safety, be sure the contract between staffing firm and host employer is clear and you leave no room for ambiguity. Be detailed in how you explain who will have responsibility for what; doing so from the start can not only cut down on misunderstanding, but it can help you identify areas in your injury prevention program that need more attention.

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Where to Start With Safety for Your Temp Workers

Knowing it’s a joint responsibility, there are still certain areas that tend to fall under the staffing firm’s domain. For example, the staffing agency must first communicate with the customer (host site) to line out responsibilities for both general safety training and site-specific safety training. “The staffing agency must communicate with the host site not only via the contract, but should also visit the site to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate the physical hazards of the environment, special safety training needs, and the job duties involved,” explains Robert Magri, Regional Safety Director at Staffmark. (Staffmark is one of the top 10 commercial staffing companies in the nation. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the company operates more than 300 locations nationally.) “In addition, the staffing agency must conduct general safety training and then ensure the employees know not only their job duties, but that they can meet the physical demands of the assignment at the host site, and fully understand the hazards of the work environment along with other factors such as temperature, air quality, heavy traffic, heights, and more,” he says. It’s also important for the staffing agency to make follow-up calls to their employees to verify that the job duties they were provided are accurate and that they received site-specific safety training along with making sure any concerns they have about their assignment are addressed, Magri tells us. In general, here are two checklists to follow:

Action the staffing firm must take:

  • Clearly communicate to set expectations and to clarify safety duties in contract with host employer
  • Communication with temporary workers and host employer throughout duration of work to ensure safety is being upheld
  • Ensure and verify you are sending all workers into a safe environment
  • Obtain knowledge on what hazards may be encountered, and how protection is being implemented on the job site
  • Implementation of general training
  • Prompt communication, alongside host employer, if any incident or injury occurs
  • Maintain access to all worksites in case an investigation is needed post-incident or injury

On the other hand, it’s up to the employer to ensure OSHA training (at minimum), hazard communication, and recordkeeping requirements are completed.

Action the host employers must take: 

  • Clearly communicate to set expectations and to clarify safety duties in contract with staffing firm
  • Gain feedback to ensure the staffing employees understand the expectations and physical demands presented by the environment
  • Communicate with temporary workers and staffing agency throughout duration of work to ensure safety is being upheld
  • Site-specific and task-specific training—which should go well beyond the general training supplied by the staffing agency
  • Robust orientation to ensure they are equipped to do the work
  • Proper use of PPE (which could include education on the proper usage)
  • Training on any hazardous chemicals they could be exposed to on the worksite
  • Recording and maintenance of any and all injury and incident records
  • Prompt communication, in coordination with staffing firm, regarding and incident or injury if one occurs

Know that before any change is made to the job duties of any temporary worker, it must be agreed upon in writing with the staffing agency. This is the responsibility of the host employer to complete. Another key point: the training that is provided to temporary workers must always be the same (content and duration) or the equivalent of the training that permanent employees go through. With that said, the list above are minimums that are in place! In fact, each injury or incident would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. The takeaway: both staffing firms AND employers are jointly responsible and must hold each other accountable at the end of the day.

Best Practices: How to Maintain a Safe Work Environment For Temp Workers

Here are 7 key tips for how this collaboration can take place:

1. Communication is critical. “The important thing is that the staffing agency and host employer communicate constantly,” explains Magri. “It’s not sufficient for the two entities to communicate only via telephone or e-mail. Although those methods are important for frequent/regular communication, it’s imperative that the staffing agency visit the customer site in-person on a regular basis to tour the work environment and talk to the staffing employees at the site,” he says. It’s also important that the host site is willing to communicate with the staffing agency any time one of the staffing agency employees is injured or if there is any change in job duties. Additionally, make sure all workers on-site know safety is priority over production goals, how and where to speak up, how to report a near-miss, and how to report a hazard on the job.

2. Never cut corners on your training or project orientation. You, as the host employer, have a duty and obligation never to rush or to attempt to rush training for temp workers. Again, all training and related safety measure must be the same for temporary workers as it would be for ongoing, regular employees. You can see why this is so critical for someone who is new to a company and new to a project!

3. Take the time for a risk assessment. Be sure you take the time to see any hazards that are preventable and avoidable in your organization (or on a specific job site). After all, you must consider the hazards you have that you are in a position to correct, and that action should comply with OSHA standards.

4. Keep your regular emergency action plans. Just as your permanent workers know how to report an injury, you must make sure temporary workers also know the policies and procedures. They also need to have access to other, more broad emergency plans that may not be job- or task-specific in nature, such as how to respond to a fire for example.

5. Don’t get complacent. The biggest mistake Magri says you’ll want to avoid is assuming that every bit of information that was obtained during the initial visit to the host site was and is accurate. “It is easy for the host site to forget certain job duties or equipment being operated by staffing agency employees. And, often due to various shifts and different supervisors, the job duties can change unintentionally, and staffing agency employees participate in job duties that are beyond the scope of risk that they should be a part of,” he says. “Or, another example: they could be operating machinery and equipment that they are not properly trained/certified to operate,” he explains.

6. Monitor what’s happening. You can have a sound training and orientation process, but then information can be lost or issues can come up once a project starts. Be sure you have a manager who leads the job monitoring effort. Anything you can do to combat complacency is critical. If there are any close-calls, be sure you determine what the root causes were. If there were any incidents, be sure corrective actions were taken and communicated across all parties.

7. Evaluate what happened post-project. Best-in-class companies know that while there may be a lot of up-front work that goes into ensuring a job is safe, there’s a great deal of learning that can happen when evaluating the job and its associated risks after it’s completed. Last, make sure you have a work environment where people can speak up if they saw or noticed behaviors or other issues that could be putting people at risk in the future.

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