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Temporary workers need workplace safety too, says OSHA

A fatal construction accident in New York City, a death at a South Carolina paper mill, and a fatality at a Florida bottling plant have prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to step up its efforts to improve workplace safety for workers hired from temporary staffing agencies.

On April 29, a memo to OSHA regional administrators outlined new checks that inspectors should make when at sites that employ temporary workers. Some of the new requirements include determining whether the workers received safety and health training “in a language and vocabulary they can understand.” Inspectors must also evaluate whether the workers are exposed to conditions that do not conform to OSHA rules.

According to OSHA officials, “Recent inspections have indicated problems where temporary workers have not been trained and were not protected from serious workplace hazards due to lack of personal protective equipment when working with hazardous chemicals and lack of lockout/tagout protections, among others.”

OSHA defines temporary worker as those paid by a temporary help agency. It does not matter whether the job is short-term or long-term.

This effort was spurred by reports of temporary workers and outside contractors being injured during their first days on the job. The deaths in New York, South Carolina and Florida occurred early in the temporary workers’ assignments, prompting OSHA to investigate whether they had received workplace safety training or protective equipment.

After investigating the Florida incident, OSHA determined that temporary workers had not been trained in the simple lockout/tagout procedures that would have saved the life of the man who died. The company, Bacardi Bottling Corp., was cited for numerous serious and wilful violations and was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The original fine of $192,000 was reduced to a $110,000 penalty after negotiations.

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in April showed that 11.5 percent of workplace deaths were among temporary workers and those employed by one company but working at another.

Source: Bloomberg BNA, “New OSHA Enforcement Initiative Focuses On Temporary Staffing Agency Workers,” May 2, 2013.