There are an estimated 1.4 million temporary help agency workers in the US.[i] However, to date, there has been limited research comparing injury rates of temporary and permanent workers. NIOSH recently published “Comparative analyses of workers’ compensation claims of injury among temporary and permanent employed workers in Ohio” in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The study analyzed over 1.3 million workers’ compensation (WC) claims in Ohio from 2001-2013 (including 45,046 claims from workers employed by temporary service agencies) to compare the injury risk of temporary and permanent workers.
This study found that workers employed in temporary agencies had higher overall injury rates than permanently employed workers performing comparable work from 2001 to 2013 among Ohio‐insured private employers. Injured temporary agency workers were younger, more likely to be male, and had less tenure (especially those with less than a year on the job) compared to permanently employed workers. These differences were pronounced in certain industries (including Agriculture, Extraction, and Construction) and causes of injuries (including contact with objects and equipment and exposure to harmful substances or environments).
The lack of research on injury and illness among temporary workers stems in part from the issues related to identifying these workers in any given industry sector combined with lack of data on injuries among temporary workers. Since WC systems track injury claims back to the employer of record rather than the site of injury for temporary workers, data from WC systems allow for potentially more accurate estimates of injury rates for employment services.[ii] The findings of the Ohio study are similar to those using large datasets of WC claims from Washington[iii],[iv],[v] and Illinois[vi] however there are some differences. The Ohio study covered a longer period of time, 13 years. Another difference involves severity of injury. The Washington and Illinois studies tracked lost time injuries of four and six days respectively. The Ohio study used lost time injuries of eight or more days. Additionally, the Ohio study used an auto-coder to code the cause of most injuries versus using manual coding.
Together, these studies have several possible implications for improving surveillance, risk assessment, training, and safety for temporary workers. These studies provide evidence that the prevention of injuries among temporary workers must include proper training. Training is likely particularly important for younger and less experienced temporary workers and should occur both before placement at the host worksite and continue after placement. The recent OSHA‐NIOSH guidance document[vii] for protecting temporary workers has a key recommendation that temporary agencies and employers should conduct task‐specific safety and health training and new project orientation. Research shows that over 40% of temporary workers reported never receiving safety training from either their temporary agency or host employer compared to 25% of permanent workers. In addition, only 42.7% of temporary workers were screened for job experience by their host employers.[v]
These studies also indicate that it may be helpful to increase safety focus when temporary workers are placed in high‐risk industries such as construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. BLS data indicates that temporary workers are especially likely to work in manufacturing, with 32.2% of temporary agency workers reporting employment in manufacturing compared to 11.1% of workers with traditional employment arrangements.[viii] These recent WC studies indicate that certain job class codes are especially high risk and these could serve as triggers for an additional onsite safety review of the host employer worksite by the temporary agency.
Another potential implication of these studies is that state WC rating bureaus and WC organizations could consider ways to incorporate the tracking of temporary agencies into the manual class code rating systems. BLS and OSHA could also consider ways to improve tracking of injuries to temporary workers.
Several states including Massachusetts, California, and Illinois have established Right‐to‐Know laws to inform temporary workers of their rights under the WC system.[ix],[x],[xi] In Massachusetts, this law also requires that the worker be informed about the types of work and tasks involved in the work for which they are hired. Other state WC systems may consider similar regulations and rules to improve temporary worker WC coverage and safety.
Together, these studies provide insights to improve injury prevention among temporary workers. Additional research is still needed to improve safety and health programming for this group of workers.
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[ii] Foley M, Ruser J, Shor G, Shuford H, Sygnatur E. Contingent workers: workers’ compensation data analysis strategies and limitations. Am J Ind Med. 2014;57(7):764‐775.
[iii] Smith CK, Silverstein BA, Bonauto DK, Adams D, Fan ZJ. Temporary workers in Washington State. Am J Ind Med. 2010; 53(2):135‐145.
[iv] National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Use of Workers’ Compensation Data for Occupational Safety and Health: Proceedings from June 2012 Workshop. 2013; https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2013‐147/. Accessed May 28, 2019.
[v] Foley M. Factors underlying observed injury rate differences between temporary workers and permanent peers. Am J Ind Med. 2017;60(10):841‐851.
[vi] Madigan D, Forst L, Friedman LS. Workers’ compensation filings of temporary workers compared to direct hire workers in Illinois, 2007‐2012: workers’ compensation of IL temporary workers. Am J Ind Med. 2017;60(1):11‐19.
[vii] Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Recommended Practices:Protecting Temporary Workers. 2014; https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3735.pdf. Accessed April 10, 2019.
[viii] Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Contingent and alternative employment arrangements —May 2017. 2018; https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/conemp.pdf. Accessed May 28, 2019.
[ix] Commonwealth of Massachusetts. An Act Establishing A Temporary Workers Right To Know. 2012; https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2012/Chapter225. Accessed March 16,2019.
[x] Tanenbaum JM, AC A California Says Think Twice Before Using Temporary Workers or Others from Staffing Agencies and Other Labor Contractors. 2015; https://www.nixonpeabody.com/en/ideas/articles/2015/01/27/california‐says‐think‐twice‐beforeusing‐temporary‐workers‐or‐others‐from‐staffing‐agen. Accessed April 10, 2019.
[xi] Illinois General Assembly. Employment: Day and Temporary Labor Services Act. 2018; http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp? ActID=2417&ChapterID=68. Accessed April 10, 2019.