Temporary employees are a much-needed solution in many industries. Extra hands get businesses through their busiest times of the year. However, temporary employees can be much like new hires: untrained, unfamiliar with the industry, and unsure about the job. New hires account for a large portion of workplace injuries. Employers who engage temporary employees must learn to counter similar safety risks seasonally.
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we welcome returning guest Bill McDonald. He is the Area Director of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) St. Louis office. McDonald has more than 33 years of experience with OSHA.
First, we’ll define what a temporary employee is. Then, we’ll share risks common to them in workplace. Finally, we’ll discuss how employers can prepare for their arrival on a job site.
Listen to this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast or read the show notes below.
What is a temporary employee?
Seasonal employment is used in some industries to expand or accommodate a workload. For example, retailers may hire temporary employees during the holiday shopping season. “Workers that are employed through staffing agencies are generally called temporary or supplied workers,” McDonald explained. “Temporary workers are just workers supplied to a host employer and are paid by a staffing agency, whether the job is actually temporary or not.”
Common risks facing temporary workers
Temporary workers often join companies at the height of their busiest times. As a result, they are expected to adapt to the environment quickly and start working as soon as possible. However, most aren’t familiar with their host company’s safety protocols and industry regulations. McDonald finds this leads to critical safety issues, like taking shortcuts and not wearing the right protective equipment.
“They are also more vulnerable to workplace safety and health hazards and retaliation than workers in a traditional employment relationship,” he added. “Temporary workers are often not given adequate safety and health training or explanations of their duties by either the temporary staffing agency or the host employer.” Temporary employees may not fully understand the risks that come with a job. This lack of knowledge can lead to amputation, illness, and even death.
Temporary or permanent: The same under the law
OSHA doesn’t draw a line between temporary and permanent employees. “There’s no difference between any of the classifications of workers as far as OSHA is concerned,” McDonald explained. Industry safety requirements and compliance apply equally.
“All employees have the same fundamental rights, whether they’re temporary workers, whether they’re staffing agency employees, or they’re the host’s permanent employees,” he shared. “They’re all treated equally under the law. So whether or not they’re there for a day, five days or thirty years, they get the same workplace protections as other employees.”
Prepare your workplace for temporary workers
Temporary workers arrive at job sites with little knowledge and information. Employers can prepare their workplaces in a few ways to minimize safety risks:
- Evaluate the work environment. Staffing agencies and employers should review all possible areas and tasks a temporary employee might encounter before they arrive.
- Identify hazards. Potential safety risks should be identified and eliminated.
- Review candidates. Staffing agencies should document each temporary employee’s skills, certifications and safety training. Host employers should review these before accepting them.
Communication between host employers and staffing agencies is essential. “It ensures a proper implementation of all necessary safety and health protections for the workers,” he said. “Division of responsibilities needs to be reviewed regularly.”
McDonald recommends that employers only work with staffing agencies that meet their safety standards. Host employers and staffing agencies should determine who is responsible for specific health and safety duties before signing a contract and the jobs they will be expected to perform. Establish who communicates with temporary employees, including who they should inform of an injury or if a job’s tasks suddenly change.
The bottom line is that temporary workers need to understand their roles and the safety risks associated with them. In addition, they also need to know their rights as employees and points of contact. Staffing agencies and host employers should work together to provide this information. When possible, they can coordinate for much of this information to be dispersed on the same day and at the same location.
Start a temporary employee’s first day in the right way
When temporary workers arrive at the workplace, staffing agencies and host employers share the responsibility of making sure they start the day in the right way. Pull them aside to explain their job role. Ask them what they should do if they see hazard or if they are injured. Do they know who to report to? What should they do if they see a near miss? Communication is key to ensuring that temporary workers get the information they need and stay safe on the job.
For more information on temporary worker heath and safety, visit OSHA’s resource site here. McDonald also recommends that employers reach out to their local OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialist for help specific to their business, scheduling an on-site consultation, where employers can receive assistance without the pressure of OSHA enforcement.