Safety concerns for temporary construction workers
A contractor is awarded a great remodeling project but its crews are already working overtime hours. Not quite ready to hire full time employees, it turns to a staffing agency for the additional temporary construction workers they need.
Hiring temporary construction labor is a solution that’s on the upswing. Analysts believe the penetration rate for temporary and permanent construction workers across all industries will increase to record high levels of 2 percent to 2.4 percent in the near term.
Unfortunately, recent evidence suggests that temporary construction workers are among the least protected when it comes to injuries, illness and death on the job. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), both staffing firms and the companies who hire temporary workers are neglecting their responsibilities to provide a safe workplace.
Some contractors may be under the false assumption that because a worker is an employee of the staffing agency, they are not responsible for the worker’s safety. OSHA has made it clear that they are.
In April 2013, OSHA announced an initiative to improve workplace safety and health for temporary workers. The initiative includes outreach, training and enforcement to ensure temporary construction workers are protected in the workplace.
“Employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees,” says David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor. “Temporary staffing agencies and employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for a temporary employee’s safety and health. It’s essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”
Who’s responsible for what?
Failure to protect temporary employees can result in hefty fines, higher workman’s comp costs, and worse, a tragic accident. But who’s actually responsible when two companies are deemed “responsible”?
OSHA says safety obligations should be outlined in a contract between the employer and the staffing agency. The contract should clearly describe what job tasks will be required, as well as what personal protective equipment is required and who will supply it. In addition, the contract should detail how communications with the worker will be handled.
Safety responsibilities outlined should include recordkeeping, training and hazard communications. According to OSHA, the responsibility for reporting and recordkeeping is based upon who supervises the temporary construction worker’s day-to-day tasks. When the employer has full supervisory control over employees, that employer is responsible for injury and illness recording and reporting.
OSHA says it’s the responsibility of the staffing agency to ensure employees have received proper training. Because employers usually have the best knowledge and control of hazards at the jobsite, employers should provide workplace-specific training appropriate to the employee’s particular tasks in a language the worker understands. Training should be conducted before the temporary worker begins work or moves to a new worksite.
Both the staffing agency and employer are responsible for ensuring employees are effectively informed and trained on exposure to hazardous chemicals. The employer has the primary responsibility for training on chemical hazards specific to the workplace. However, at a minimum, the staffing agency is expected to inform employees that the employer they are going to be working for is required to educate them on the chemical hazards of the workplace.
Best practices for keeping temporary workers safe
- Review and exchange safety programs with your staffing agency.
To reduce risks, review injury and illness prevention with the staffing agency. In that way, you can ensure safety standards are being met. In addition, ask to review safety training and any certification records of the temporary workers you will be using
- Communicate with staffing agencies regarding injury and illness.
Knowledge and investigation of construction construction workplace injuries is vital to preventing future injuries. According to OSHA, information about injuries, as well as about near-misses should flow between the employer and staffing agency. Responsibility for recordkeeping is with the employer who is providing day-to-day supervision. Both the staffing agency and employer should tell the employee how to report accidents or near misses.
- Conduct safety and health training as well as new-project orientation.
Before work begins, provide temporary workers with safety training identical to or equivalent with what regular employees receive for similar work. This includes information on emergency procedures and exit routes. Supervisors also need to know exactly what tasks the temporary worker can perform based on the contract.
- Establish injury and illness prevention programs.
OSHA recommends staffing agencies and employers alike have safety and health programs for temporary workers. Contractors are required to have accident prevention programs. This includes designating a competent person (as defined by OSHA) to conduct frequent and regular inspections, and instruct employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions and know what regulations apply to the work environment.
Contractors can often get help reducing risks through their insurance company. Another resource is OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program, which offers free and confidential advice to small and medium size businesses, with priority given to high-hazard work sites.
Contractors who create a safe work place can save substantially on workman’s comp premiums. An OSHA tool, available online, assesses the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on the profitability of your business.
–By J. Costin