How to Protect the Safety of Contract and Temporary Workers
As the ranks of temporary and contract workers swell, safety regulators are looking to responsible parties to keep these oft-at-risk parties safe. What’s the extent of host employer and agency responsibility in this situation?
Host employer responsibilities differ by jurisdiction
Well, the short answer is it depends. OSHA, for instance, draws its regulatory powers in this matter from the OSH Act, signed into law all the way back in 1970.
Of course, much has changed since then, specifically the upsurge in temporary work. But the law makes it clear that it’s the host employer’s responsibility to protect its employees.
To this end, OSHA recommends that temporary staffing agencies and host employers set out the responsibilities to which each will adhere, with regards to the contract employee. That will help each party comply with OSHA requirements without confusion.
Indeed, both parties have crucial roles to play in ensuring worker health and safety. Each must seek to prevent and correct hazards in their (respective) power to control.
Key, here, is communication to ensure that the necessary protections are provided.
Staffing agencies, for one, will typically have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers’ assigned workplaces. That’s meant to ensure that the agency is sending workers to a safe workplace.
How much responsibility does that give to staffing agencies? Quite a bit.
Ignorance is no excuse. OSHA advises staffing agencies to become experts on workplace hazards, including determining what conditions exist at their client (host) agencies, what hazards may be encountered, and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers.
To do so, staffing agencies must inquire and verify that the host employer has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
Meanwhile, host employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training and safety and health protections.
Joint responsibilities between staffing agencies and hosts
They’re also overlapping responsibilities – not just in the U.S. but in jurisdictions around the world, as well, e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., etc.
For instance, host companies and staffing agencies have joint responsibility to ensure training, hazard communication, and recordkeeping requirements are fulfilled.
What’s more, safety regulators often have the power to hold both the host and temporary employers responsible for violations, such as inadequate training regarding workplace hazards.
Nor are regulators naïve. They take a special interest in temporary workers, as many such employees are used to skirt (full) worker protections.
Temporary and contract workers often receive the most hazardous assignments, too, while being most vulnerable to retaliation if they speak out.
Host employers, of course, can do their share by working with temporary agencies to give temporary employees adequate safety and health training as well as fully explain their worker duties. How to implement these measures as part of a larger best-practice contractor program? Download our guide to Contractor Relationship Management to find out.