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Why Temp Help Is Not Always Safe Help

Training Temporary workers

Spotted this week: Another interesting article, from the fall of last year, about workplace safety concerns that accompany the temporary workforce. A trio of Temple University law students recently completed a report that examined on-the-job incidents related to ‘temps’. They found that the number of work-related injuries incurred by temps indicates that much more needs to be done to improve safety for this category of the workforce, one that is increasing in size across the US.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, staffing agencies employ about 3 million workers across the country. A 2013 survey by ProPublica showed that, at least in five states, temp workers were 72 percent more likely to be injured on the job than their full-time counterparts. The recent Temple study, which focused on Pennsylvania, says “the increasing phenomenon of temp work has placed Pennsylvania workers in jeopardy by making them vulnerable to workplace injury and financial harm.” Employers have an obvious moral obligation to keep their staff as safe from harm as possible. But those employers also suffer in numerous ways from on-the-job injuries: production slows (or is temporarily shut down), morale drops, and OSHA fines may be incurred.

In a way, OSHA itself may be one of the contributing factors to high rates of workplace injuries among temps, thanks to a disproportionate ratio of federal staff to employees. Using Pennsylvania again as a benchmark, the AFL-CIO says that just “54 OSHA inspectors in Pennsylvania are in charge of overseeing the safety of nearly 5.7 million workers.” That’s about 10,500 workers per OSHA administrator for that region. Surely, this must mean that inspections are less common than they should be. Few companies welcome inspections, of course, but they are an important component of proper oversight. With a relatively small contingent of safety professionals at the federal level, those employers who might reach out to OSHA for guidance may not always promptly receive the help they request.

Also, when a dreadful incident does happen, the fines can be relatively low. According to the Temple report, after a temp worker’s death in 2010 at a PA company, the agency fined the company about $26,000, a cost that was reduced to a little over $18,000 after the company installed a new safety guard. So the levity of penalties is not always severe, and many companies sadly risk inspection and fines rather than keep their facilities in compliance.

But poor safety training is at least as much the cause of lost-time accidents and injuries as is any shortcoming in federal regulatory management. Many companies who use temporary labor rely on the staffing agency to teach basic safety to the temps. This level of training may not be enough guidance to help keep temps as safe from harm as they could be. As the Temple group says, “When a host employer, for example, contracts away safety training duties to a staffing agency, the host employer washes its hands of responsibility for temp worker injuries. At the same time, the staffing agency, which is frequently competing in a crowded market, will look for ways to cut corners on temp workers’ training.”

At Findlay All Hazards, we know that temporary workforces can be efficiently and thoroughly safety-trained by EHS managers and associates. Findlay can help you develop a training program for those workers that will give your company the confidence that everyone is working as safely as possible. Contact Findlay today to discuss your training needs.

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