Keeping Temporary Workers Safe: Whose Responsibility is it Anyway?

Hiring team reviewing documents with new-hire.

With current unemployment rates hitting record lows -- 3.7% across the U.S in August 2022, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics -- many employers are struggling to find qualified employees. The pandemic caused a major disruption in America’s workforce. We’re living through a unique moment in U.S History, as the gap between job openings and unemployed workers narrows. For the first time in nearly 15 years, the number of job openings is almost double the number of unemployed people, according to BLS.

The labor shortage has forced many employers to explore alternative options for finding employees, including the use of temporary staffing agencies to help fill positions. This raises the question: “Who is responsible for the safety of temporary workers?" Temporary workers are entitled to the same protections as all other workers covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Yet every year, more and more temporary workers are injured on the job. The recent uptick in the number of injuries sustained by temporary workers has gained the attention of OSHA, leading to the development of a Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses amongst temporary workers.  

To support this initiative, OSHA has developed a series of bulletins to provide guidance and resources for both host employers and staffing agencies to ensure temporary employees are provided with the necessary knowledge to perform their jobs safely. Often, host employers assume that, because temporary workers are not directly employed by them, the staffing agency is responsible for safety training, personal protective equipment, recording injuries on their injury & illness logs, etc.

According to OSHA, the host employer and the staffing agency have joint responsibility for protecting the safety and health of temporary workers. The agency and host employer must work together to ensure OSHA requirements are fully met, and that the temporary worker is provided with a safe workplace. The host employer has primary responsibility for determining the hazards in their workplace and complying with worksite-specific requirements. Although the temporary worker is technically working for the staffing agency, the host employer remains responsible for ensuring a safe workplace free of recognized hazards, providing site-specific safety training, and providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The staffing agency has a duty to confirm the job site is safe, and their employees are protected from and have been trained on job site hazards. For example, if a staffing agency is supplying workers to a host employer where they will be working in a manufacturing setting and using potentially hazardous equipment, the agency must take reasonable steps to identify any hazards present and to ensure temporary workers receive the required training, protective equipment, and other safeguards. Also, if a temporary worker is hurt, the injury must be included on the host employer’s injury and illness log if the injury meets OSHA's recording criteria. For more information about how to record the injury of a temporary worker, reference this bulletin. It is also OSHA’s expectation that the employer and the staffing agency communicate with each other to determine what measures will be implemented to prevent future injuries.

Regarding PPE, OSHA requires the host employer to complete a risk hazard assessment of each job function and determine what PPE is required. In most cases, the host employer will have primary responsibility to provide PPE training that informs temporary workers of PPE requirements, where to obtain it, how to properly wear it, limitations of use, and more. For further details regarding these requirements, reference this bulletin.

For more information on personal protective equipment including a PPE hazard evaluation form and sample program, check out the resources within the MEMIC Safety Director. For resources to provide safety training, these can be accessed on the MEMIC Safety Director, as well as our Video Lending Library.  

For quick access to OSHA’s Temporary Worker Bulletins, reference links below: