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OSHA’s Full-Time Enforcement Policy for Temporary Workers

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2015

By Eric J. Conn


In April 2013, OSHA declared that protecting temporary workers would become a top priority. That has proven true in 2014 with the rollout of OSHA’s Temporary Worker Initiative and in 2015 with a heavy dose of enforcement and new guidance for employers. 

© iStock.com / Darieus

OSHA sees protecting temporary workers as a top priority; in 2015 it rolled out a heavy dose of enforcement and new guidance for employers.

OSHA maintains that temporary employees are entitled to the same safety protections as other workers. And while no one would dispute that, the question remains: who is responsible—the staffing agency or the host employer—when a temporary worker is exposed to workplace hazards?

A Growing Temporary Workforce

Although OSHA has regulated the treatment of temporary workers for many years, its new emphasis on protecting temporary workers has been sparked by several concerns. Most prominent among them are:

  • The surge (and expected continued growth) of the temporary workforce;
  • The nature of the work performed by temporary workers; and
  • Recent fatalities among temporary workers.

For purposes of the Initiative, OSHA defines “temporary worker” only as one who is working in a host employer/staffing agency employment structure.

Protecting Temporary Workers

OSHA’s stated goals for the Temporary Worker Initiative are to:

  • Protect temporary workers from workplace hazards;
  • Ensure staffing agencies and host employers understand their safety and health obligations; and
  • Allow OSHA to learn information regarding hazards in workplaces utilizing temporary workers.
© iStock.com / dongood

OSHA defines “temporary worker” only as one who is working in a host employer/staffing agency employment structure.

To achieve these goals, OSHA has been producing compliance assistance materials, such as fact sheets and webpages; conducting outreach to affected stakeholders; and of course, exercising its enforcement hammer.

Specifically, OSHA directed its inspectors to explore the presence of temporary workers during every inspection they conduct and determine whether any temporary workers are exposed to violative conditions—regardless of the purpose of the inspection or the nature of the employer’s business.

Training is a main focus of the initiative, and OSHA has specifically instructed its inspectors to determine whether required training has been provided in a language the employees can understand.

Indeed, from an enforcement standpoint, the list of most frequently cited violations at workplaces with temporary workers has a strong training focus, including:

  • Hazards requiring Lockout/Tagout Protections;
  • Fall Protection;
  • Hazard Communication;
  • Electrical Hazards; and
  • Powered Industrial Trucks.

Who Holds Responsibility?

OSHA has issued interpretation letters and other guidance to the employer community about which entity is responsible for certain OSHA safety requirements between temporary staffing agencies and host employers.

© iStock.com / b_karloff

Training is a main focus of the initiative, and OSHA has instructed its inspectors to determine whether required training has been provided in a language the employees can understand.

The issues addressed in the guidance focus on injury and illness recordkeeping, training, personal protective equipment, rights of whistleblowers, and chemical hazard communication.

In each of these areas, OSHA’s enforcement philosophy begins with the premise that the staffing agency and host employer share responsibility for ensuring that OSHA’s safety requirements are met.

The key consideration in determining which entity will be held accountable (i.e., cited for a violation) is generally which entity provides day-to-day supervision of the temporary workers and controls the means and methods of the work being performed. 

Although this guidance provides some insight into the division of responsibility for the safety and health of temporary workers, it is quite vague and leaves a lot open to the interpretation of the host employer, staffing agency and, most troubling, the OSHA inspector.

Best Practices

Due to the unique nature of the temporary worker, staffing agency and host employer working relationship, as well as the current intense enforcement environment, staffing agencies and host employers should consider taking some or all of the following steps.

© iStock.com / PhilAugustavo

OSHA’s enforcement philosophy begins with the premise that the staffing agency and host employer share responsibility for ensuring that OSHA’s safety requirements are met.

The temporary staffing agency and the host employer should set out their respective safety-related responsibilities in their contract, to ensure there is clear understanding of each employer’s role.

Both employers should conduct new hire/new project safety orientations.

Both employers plus the temporary workers themselves should maintain open and effective communication to ensure that injuries and illnesses are promptly reported and reviewed, underlying hazards are corrected, proper PPE is being provided and safety concerns can be raised to the host employer and staffing agency before injuries occur.

Both employers should perform a hazard assessment of the worksite to determine:

  • What conditions exist at the host employer’s worksite;
  • What hazards may be encountered; and
  • How best to ensure the temporary workers’ protection.

The host employer should also evaluate whether temporary workers may actually be treated by OSHA as the host’s direct employee and assume full compliance responsibility if that is likely, regardless what label is attached to the worker.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Eric J. Conn

Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Group. His practice focuses exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law. OSHA Watch offers general information but should not be construed as legal advice. Employers are always advised to seek appropriate counsel for individual issues. Contact Eric.

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Tagged categories: Epstein Becker Green; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; OSHA; Enforcement; North America; Safety; Worker training; Workers

Comment from Mike Moran, (12/15/2015, 8:54 AM)

More government protection in the name of safety. Go away! Money making idea for the government


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