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The OSHA temporary work initiative: what employers need to know

Your employees are the lifeblood of your business. And you have a legal and moral duty to provide those employees with a safe workplace.

But what about temporary workers you hire through a staffing agency? According to OSHA, those workers are entitled to the same training and protections as your regular employees. But are they getting it? Unfortunately, the answer is too often “no.”

That’s why in 2013, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) launched the Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses among temporary workers. The initiative is designed to put more focus on temporary workers and the responsibility employers have to ensure those workers are protected from workplace hazards.

One Worker, Two Employers

When you hire a temporary worker, who’s the boss? You or the staffing agency? Actually, both of you are. For OSHA considerations, the staffing agency and the host employer are “joint employers” of the temporary worker. For example, the staffing agency usually pays the employee and often selects the host employer. The host employer generally assigns the specific day-to-day work and trains the worker on job-specific hazards.

You’re also both responsible for the safety and health of the temporary worker under the OSHA Act. And if OSHA pays you a visit for an inspection, compliance officers will want to know if both of you have met those responsibilities.

Falling Through the Cracks

Unfortunately, temporary workers are at a disadvantage from the start. Because they move around so much, many are “new” employees multiple times a year. So they have a higher risk of being injured on the job. Many suffer serious and even fatal injuries, sometimes within their first few days on a new job.

These workers have a lot to overcome to be a part of your workforce. But too many of these injuries and deaths happen because they simply fall through the cracks when it comes to their host employers’ training and safety efforts.

How can you assure OSHA compliance with temporary workers?

It’s a team effort. You need to work closely with the staffing agency to comply with OSHA Act requirements and provide the temporary worker a safe workplace. Here are five tips that can help:

  1. Get it in writing. To avoid any confusion, have a contract with the staffing agency that clearly delineates the role of each employer. The contract should also clearly define the tasks the temporary worker will be performing, and which employer is responsible for specific safety-related duties, such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE). Have an OSHA compliance officer review the contract to make sure all responsibilities are addressed.
  2. Don’t skimp on training. OSHA standards require host employers to provide temporary workers with site- and task-specific safety and health training that is identical or equivalent to the training it provides regular employees doing the same or similar work. Failing to do so could mean costly fines, so don’t let your temp workers fall through the cracks on training.
  1. Make communication a priority. Communication between you and the staffing agency is crucial throughout the relationship. Work together to make sure temporary workers are getting the information, training and orientations they need.
  1. Be diligent about reporting injuries. Immediately notify the staffing agency if a temporary worker is injured, and then coordinate with the agency to resolve the safety hazards that led to the injury.
  1. Make your temps feel welcome. In addition to adequate training and orientation, your temporary workers need reassurance. Make sure they feel like a welcome addition to the company. Verbalize to them the importance of their contribution, include them in company events and show them you genuinely care about their safety and success.

As our economy and workforce continue to evolve, temporary workers are becoming increasingly vital in many industries. If you hire temporary workers, provide them with what they need to be safe, healthy, productive members of your team. By doing so, you’ll also stay out of trouble with OSHA.

Have questions? Need guidance? Contact our risk management team.

Not sure where to start? Talk to someone who wants to listen.

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