Emphasizing that temporary workers must be provided the same level of protection by host employers as the company's own employees, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued two new guidance documents relating to temporary workers.

The bulletins - one on personal protective equipment and the other pertaining to whistle-blower protection rights - are just the latest additions to the agency’s Temporary Worker Initiative

The initiative, launched in 2013, focuses on compliance with safety and health requirements when temporary workers are employed under the joint employment of a staffing agency and a host employer. 

Numerous studies have shown that new workers are at greatly increased risk for work-related injury, and most temporary workers will be "new" workers multiple times a year.

“Staffing agencies recognize this is an important issue and have been very helpful," states Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "We’ve found that many host employers haven’t figured out that they are responsible for the safety and health of all workers working for them, including temporary workers. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for temp employee's safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements."

OSHA can hold both the host and temporary employers responsible for violations, and that can include lack of adequate training regarding workplace hazards. 

Personal Protection Equipment

The personal protective equipment (PPE) bulletin states that the host employer will typically have primary responsibility for selecting, providing and ensuring the use of adequate PPE because they are more familiar with the potential workplace hazards the temporary worker may encounter, and can better perform the required hazard assessment.

The staffing agency “must take reasonable steps” to ensure the host employer conducts the appropriate hazard assessment and provides adequate PPE. 

Employers are also required to train each worker required to use personal protective equipment to know:

  • When it is necessary
  • What kind is necessary
  • How to properly put it on, adjust, wear and take it off
  • The limitations of the equipment
  • Proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the equipment

OSHA also recommends the staffing agency become familiar with the hazards at the host employer’s worksite and maintain communication with its workers and the host employer.

That is part of the walk-thru and familiarization process that Staffing Talk contributing writer Scott Morefield recommends in this piece on how to screen a staffing client.

Whistle-Blower Protections

The whistle-blower bulletin states that temporary workers have the same rights and protections as other workers when they report workplace injuries or unsafe work conditions to their employer, OSHA or other agencies.

Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees for exercising their rights under the OSH Act. 

These rights include filing an OSHA complaint, participating in an inspection or talking to an inspector, seeking access to employer exposure and injury records, reporting an injury, and raising a safety or health complaint with the employer. 

OSHA says staffing agencies don't need to become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at their client's worksites, and how to best ensure protection for the temporary workers.

"The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace," states OSHA's website.