Safety and Your Contingent Workforce Program: Are You Swimming in Dangerous Waters?

In 2011—the first year that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on contractor injuries—542 work-related fatalities involving contractors occurred.

If you manage a contingent program, ensuring safety conditions for your contingent workforce should be a top priority. Organizations heavily rely on temporary workers and that trend is expected to continue to grow. Due to recent and pending changes in laws and regulations, organizations who want to avoid expensive legal problems will pay close attention to temporary staffing.
FACT: Sourcing talent through a staffing agency DOES NOT protect you from safety and wage law violations.
In fact, “the courts have consistently ruled that the customer is a joint employer along with the subcontractor or labor supplier and, thus, jointly liable for all aspects of the employment relationship,” says Nicholas Hankey, a labor law attorney. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board, and even state governments have weighed in on this issue. It’s time to “clear the air” about the misconception that organizations can “hide” behind their suppliers.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

Temporary workers have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. Yet, according to OSHA, “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.”
The supplier and the buyer (or host employer) are usually considered joint employers of contract workers. Therefore, providing and maintaining a safe work environment for those workers is the responsibility of both parties. Many organizations assume that the supplier will handle the safety of their contingent workers. People who are unclear on their safety responsibilities do not realize the unseen danger that it can create.

The Causes and Costs of Unsafe Workplaces

What’s getting in the way of workplace safety? Let’s take a look at the leading causes of workplace injury.
  • Insufficient training and awareness
  • Language barriers
  • Improper personal protective equipment (PPE)
If procurement and HR professionals thought carefully about the costs of workplace safety violations, they would address these issues in a heartbeat.
What are some of the negative repercussions of contingent safety violations?
  • Cost of Defense
  • Fines and penalties
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Lawsuits
  • Damage to reputation
So, how can you build safety into your contingent workforce program? Although we cannot provide legal advice, we can share what has worked for other organizations and recommendations from regulatory agencies.

Follow Safety Best Practices

  • Make sure contingent workers are trained. All of your contract workers will need basic training and job-specific training, as well as training on emergency procedures—including exit routes. Whether provided by the supplier, the buyer, or both, training should be in a language workers understand. A good practice is to give contingent workers safety training that is identical or equivalent to that provided to full-time employees performing the same or similar work.
  • Keep your work site free of hazards. Make regular inspections of the facilities. Conduct hazard specific training. Make sure you provide proper protective equipment to temporary workers. Communicate site-specific hazards. This includes being aware of potential health issues, such as weather. For example, many contingent workers fall ill or even die because of work-related heat exposure.
  • Keep up with reporting and communication. Clear communication between the host employer and the staffing agency is necessary. Stay on top of all hazard communication and record-keeping requirements. Make sure you have updated policies and training material for temporary workers. In the event of an accident, make sure you know how to properly report to health and safety agencies, as well as workers’ compensation and insurance providers.
  • Be prepared. On-the-job injuries and illnesses will happen. That is an unpleasant fact. Have procedures in place for emergencies. All workers need to know how to obtain first aid and medical treatment. Give your temporary workers information on how to report an injury and get treatment.
Workplace safety for contractors cannot be an afterthought. Remember the trusty adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and you will be well on your way to ensuring the safety of your entire extended workforce.
What changes would you make to protect your company from contingent safety risks in the future? Join the conversation by tweeting @BeelineVMS.

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