The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an initiative to further protect temporary employees from workplace hazards.  A new OSHA memorandum directs field inspectors to assess whether employers who use part-time workers are complying with their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations. Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand.

The memo underscores the duty of employers to protect all workers from hazards.  Also,  OSHA said it has begun working with the American Staffing Association and employers that use staffing agencies, to promote best practices ensuring that temporary workers are protected from job hazards.  However, it is the responsibity of the employer to provide the same training full-time employees are given, as they are legally liable for the safety and health of temporary workers. 

In recent months, OSHA said it has received a series of reports about temporary workers suffering fatal injuries – many during their first days on a job. OSHA has issued citations when the employer failed to provide adequate protections, including safety training.  Many of these, as stated above, did not understand instructions given.  They must be trained in construction industries, as well as manufacturing.  They should attend regular safety meetings and understand about fall protection, chemicals, machine guarding, and other hazards, as well as become familiar with PPE
personal protective equipment they should be given.

Data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries conducted by the Bureau of Labor, reported statistics on workers killed on the job in 2011:  fatal work injuries involving contractors accounted for 542 – or 12 percent – of the 4,693 fatal work injuries reported. Hispanic/Latino contractors accounted for 28 percent of fatal work injuries among contractors, well above their 16 percent share of the overall fatal work injury total for the year. 

A report from the nonprofit Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) details the increasing use of contingent workers to perform dangerous, undesirable jobs in industries like farming, construction, warehousing and hotel services. Noting that the number of contingent workers has doubled in twenty years to more than 2.5 million, the report underscores Bureau of Labor Statistics data that they suffer higher rates of injury and death than other employees. 

The economic and political vulnerability of contingent workers, who are often poor and sometimes undocumented, makes them easy to exploit not only with low wages and long hours, but also with unsafe working conditions. According to the study, because contingent employees rarely have health insurance or even workers’ compensation coverage, employers are able to shift the financial burden of workplace injuries onto the public, and often skimp on safety training of temps.

Most temporary workers are thankful for a paycheck and are willing to do any type of job.  Employers owe it to them to see that they are able to return home at the end of the workday safe and sound.