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Employers on the hook for keeping temporary workers safe

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NEW ORLEANS — While both staffing agencies and host employers are on the legal hook for keeping temporary workers safe and injury-free, employers tend to get cited more by safety regulators for failing to maintain a hazard-free workplace, according to a legal expert weighing in on issues with short-term workers.

That’s why firms relying on temporary workers also face a brunt of the duties when it comes to ensuring workers will follow safety protocols, according to Courtney Malveaux, Richmond, Virginia-based attorney with Jackson Lewis P.C., who represents employers facing citations from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mr. Malveaux presented to a group of about 40 safety professionals at a Wednesday session at the Volunteer Protection Program Participants Association’s Safety +, Integrated Safety & Health Management Systems Symposium in New Orleans.

The use of temporary workers has grown 125% since the 1990s, he said, adding that labor statistics reveal that 861,000 temporary workers were added to the workforce since 2009.

“How do you instill (a safety) culture on the fly? That’s a huge challenge,” he said.

Mr. Malveaux admitted that he had once been a temporary worker in a warehouse when he was younger. He recalls his and others’ behavior and horseplay: operating forklifts inappropriately and climbing on boxes.

“I look back at that experience and think, where were the (safety) breakdowns in that situation? Starting with me — being stupid,” he said.

Before his presentation he asked attendees about which industries they cover and what brought them to the session. The responses varied but the issue they face was similar: a temporary workforce with high turnover and more injuries.

One of the single most important things an employer hosting temporary workers can do to make safety knowhow and training a priority is to show the temporary employee the “value in it,” he told attendees.

“They can roll their eyes, they can say, ‘I am only here for a few days, I am only here for a (pay)check’ … but I think (training) tells them they are valued just like everybody else there,” Mr. Malveaux said.

Another best practice is to research the staffing agency, he added.

“OSHA’s position is that both the staffing agency and the host employer share responsibility” for safety, he said, adding that both can be cited by OSHA but that the host employer “gets hit more often and harder.”

It’s why looking closely at the staffing agency can go a long way in avoiding troubles later on, he said.

Strategies include checking certifications, licensing, and expertise — get copies of documents — and to pick a reputable staffing agency — “ask around. … If you don’t know you are just getting a grab bag of who knows,” he said.

He also suggests getting written references and copies of internal policies.

OSHA isn’t the only entity to worry about, he said, adding that civil liability can be a big problem if a worker is injured and more so for the employer.

“When it comes to liability it is the crass reality that they go for the deeper pocket (and) it’s usually the host employer,” he said.