• Staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe environment for temporary workers.
    Staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe environment for temporary workers.

{Question} We find ourselves hiring more temporary workers as business has picked up in our market, and we want to make sure they are trained adequately. Specifically, what are the safety standards we should be following? Do OSHA regulations differentiate between permanent full-time and temporary workers? Finally, we find many of our temporary workers through a staffing agency. Does that make a difference?

{Answer} Temporary construction workers play an important role, filling short-term needs at the plant as laborers or running miscellaneous errands. However, ready-mix plants can be hazardous places to the untrained individual. When using temporary workers, a producer must take care that it is meeting their training and compliance obligations related to jobsite safety.

OSHA recently launched an initiative aimed at protecting temporary workers from jobsite hazards. David Michaels, assistant U.S. secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, stated, “Host employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for the temporary employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”

While the extent of responsibility for staffing agencies and host employers depends on the specific case, staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe environment for temporary workers, including, for example, ensuring that OSHA’s training, hazard communication, and recordkeeping requirements are fulfilled.

The key is communication between the host employer and the temporary staffing agency. Set out the responsibilities for safety, training, and regulatory compliance in the contract, but be aware that while spelling out the contractual obligations of each party helps to define roles, it will not always protect a producer from being held responsible by OSHA. The agency could hold both the host and temporary staffing agency responsible for violations.

Communicate your needs

The producer’s goal should be to protect temporary workers from hazards just like they would any other employee. The producer should communicate their labor needs and the plant conditions to the temporary staffing agency, and each entity should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent and/or correct.

For example, it would be prudent for a staffing agency to provide workers with basic General Industry Hazard Awareness Training such as OSHA 10- or 30-hour courses, while the host producer provides any needed or required training that may apply to plant-specific work. The host employer should also consider which tasks are appropriate for temporary workers.

For example, it is not appropriate for a producer to direct a temporary worker to run a forklift unless that producer has fulfilled its training and evaluation requirements spelled out in OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.178. The producer could rely on training provided and documented by the temporary staffing agency, but the producer is still obligated to conduct the performance evaluations required by OSHA to certify the worker’s competency to operate their specific equipment under the plant-specific conditions. Not only is this required, but it is prudent to ensure safe and productive conditions at the plant. Many accidents are caused by people performing tasks that they are not qualified to do.

Treat temporary workers like you would any other employee. Train them and teach them to identify the potential hazards that are specific to your plant. This takes time, but it also protects people from injuries and helps save lives. Make sure all of the plant management and other personnel understand the duties and limitations of the temporary workers at the plant so they do not get assigned to tasks they have not been trained to handle.

Finally, make sure you follow OSHA’s recordkeeping rules regarding temporary workers. If a temporary worker is injured while under your day-to-day supervision, you must record that injury in your company’s OSHA 300 log. The fact that their paycheck is coming from a temporary staffing agency does not negate your responsibility to record the injury just as though it was one of your employees.

Contributed by Jim Rogers, director of the Western OSHA Education Center at the Del E. Webb School of Construction, Arizona State University. E-mail jimrogers@asu.edu.