Today's News / Occupational Safety

Advocacy groups advise OSHA on ways to safeguard temp workers

“We fear retaliation”

agricultureOSHA’s efforts to protect temporary workers got some input recently from a coalition of workplace safety groups, worker centers and public health professionals, who presented agency chief Dr. David Michaels with recommendations during a recent forum in Boston devoted to the subject.

How were they trained?

The recommendations ranged from compelling OSHA inspectors to learn about how temporary workers were trained and what safety materials they received to requiring that employers provide a roster of all workers employed the day of an OSHA investigation and their job titles (both for permanent and temporary employees) so that OSHA may select whomever it wishes to interview.

Other recommendations addressed the need to hold both temporary staffing agencies and host employers responsible for ensuring that temporary workers receive adequate training before facing on-the-job hazards and for recording any injuries that temporary workers may endure.

Reporting and responsibility

“Temp workers fall through the cracks,” said Linda Delp, director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program and chair of the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Occupational Health and Safety Section. “From a public health perspective, we need to know where they’re working, who’s injured on the job and how - so we can improve working conditions. But there are not clear lines of reporting and responsibility for worker safety.”

Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health said temporary workers are more vulnerable to on-the-job hazards than permanent employees.

“Many receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the jobsite, but are reluctant to mention that to employers so that they aren’t replaced,” said O’Connor. “At the same time, temporary workers are employed in some of the country’s most hazardous jobs, including waste recycling, fish processing and construction.”

Number increasing

The recent recession caused many companies to rely on temporary employees, leading to that sector accounting for 15 percent of all job growth nationally during the past four years.

“Jobs that were once direct hires with benefits are now temporary and precarious – rarely leading to permanent work with benefits, but often leading to injuries – as untrained workers are ill-prepared to deal with workplace hazards,” said Michael Muñoz, director of the National Staffing Workers Alliance.

Rosa Ramirez, who spent two decades as a temporary worker in Chicago manufacturing facilities – via temporary staffing agencies – said; “Because we fear retaliation by staffing agencies, temp workers will not come forward to inform OSHA of dangerous working conditions. Unless OSHA approaches temp labor worksites the way FBI undercover agents infiltrate organized crime, the loss of life and limb will continue to pervade our workplaces.”

For a complete list of the recommendations, visit http://coshnetwork.org/recommendations-how-osha-can-improve-health-and-safety-temporary-workers.

For a video of Dr. Michaels’ discussion at the temp forum, visit: https://vimeo.com/78526302.

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