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Temps Have Greater Risk of Workplace Accident, Says ProPublica, Part II

Our previous blog post discussed the recent ProPublica story about temporary workers injuries. Read on for more about this topic.

It is difficult to count temporary workplace accidents nationally using workers compensation claims. Some states, such as New Jersey, consider worker claims confidential and refused to release them for the ProPublica study. Others, such as New York, statistics don't separate temporary and permanent workers. In Texas, employers are not required to carry workers comp insurance, and they do not consistently report worker injuries to the state.

Despite these obstacles, the trend is clear. The ProPublica analysis counted 3.5 million workers compensation claims in five states: California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon. In Minnesota, temporary workers were three times more likely to be injured by chemicals than permanent employees. California temps were two times more likely to suffer heat exhaustion.

The study showed that problems like these are getting worse. And because not all workplace accidents are reported, the number of temporary worker injuries is almost certainly far greater than the data shows. One important reason for underreporting temp work injuries is simple: Workers who report injuries to their temp agency run the risk of being blacklisted and out of work.

The higher rate of injury among temp workers is understandable. Temp workers don't have the experience and lengthy training of permanent workers, especially when it comes to operating complex or dangerous machinery. They employ muscles they don't normally use.

Most importantly, temporary workers are almost always new workers. National statistics show that a large proportion of all workplace injuries occur in the first three months on the job. Most temp assignments don't last that long.

ProPublica interviewed many temporary workers and heard the same story many times: Employers cut corners on training and equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the same thing: It is common for temporary workers to be working without even the most rudimentary training or safety equipment.

For example, fishing processing workers in Massachusetts had to gut fish without safety glasses to keep debris-blood and guts-out of their eyes. Workers in Chicago were brought to a job site wearing T-shirts, only to find that they would be working in a refrigerated warehouse. Sometimes safety equipment is offered, but the cost is often deducted from a worker's paycheck, and workers who are already strapped for funds often don't take advantage of the offer.

Given all these factors, it's not surprising that temporary workers face much greater rates of injury and death than permanent employees. A future blog post will discuss other factors that contribute to this sad state of affairs.

Source: ProPublica, "How We Calculated Injury Rates for Temp and Non-Temp Workers," Dec. 18, 2013.

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