A great number of OSHA-protected workers are temporary workers in the construction and general industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, temporary workers, in fact, make up 19 percent of workers across the United States. Fox News estimates a slightly smaller figure—12 percent—but don’t be fooled: this percentage still equates to 17 million people.
The BLS and OSHA define temporary workers as employees compensated for their work by a staffing agency, regardless of whether their job is temporary or not. But given the unreliability of the economy, and the nature of their jobs (since these workers don’t have PTOs and are basically dispensable), who can they turn to when they’re aggravated? Who makes sure that they are making the most of their jobs, albeit rather temporarily?
OSHA does. In his speech addressed to the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) last June, Assistant Labor Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels acknowledged the fact that temporary workers face greater risks of injury and illness at their workplaces, and said that OSHA will promote new rules and practices that will be of best interests to “temps.”
Michaels began his speech by referring to recent tragedies that struck the industry. These tragedies included the death of a 21-year old temporary worker, who was crushed to death at work while cleaning glass inside a palletizer, as well as another worker who accidentally fell from the 11th story of a New York building. Both workers were killed on their first day of employment. Both workers didn’t receive proper construction safety training prior to starting work.
Michaels told NASCOSH and the media that OSHA has released a memorandum addressed to regional administrators to find out whether employers who use temporary workers are actually complying with OSHA standards. Michaels also announced that OSHA inspectors have already been informed of the initiative and will be rolled out soon. The initiative mandates employers to update their records with incidences of safety and health violations and whether or not temps have received safety training in a language and vocabulary they understand.
As a side note, Michaels emphasized on the fact that the temporary employer and host employer will both be cited for violations should OSHA finds out that both are responsible. Employees will be cited if OSHA finds out that they tried to hide the fact that their employers have failed to provide them the necessary training for their job.
OSHA will also work with the American Staffing Association (ASA) in coming up with a webinar that discusses the rights of employees and their employers’ responsibilities to ensure that they are working in a safe and productive environment. This webinar will highlight safety and health programs for ASA staff and employment best practices for staffing agencies and host employers.
However, OSHA recognizes the limitations of such initiatives and calls on stakeholders, agencies and local state departments to promote awareness of the said issue and to develop best practices that can help uplift the condition of temporary workers.
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