Construction Temporary workers

Stricter rules, increased corporate responsibility needed to protect temp workers: report

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Photo: Temple University Beasley School of Law

Philadelphia – Staffing agencies that hire temporary workers need to be regulated more vigorously, and employers that use those agencies should carry a heavier load of responsibility for workers’ safety, a trio of Temple University law students concluded in a recent report examining how staffing agencies and host employers may “pass the buck” to get around proper safety training and other requirements.

Temple students Rebecca Daily, Tracie Johnson and Holly Smith, working in the Social Justice Lawyering Clinic at Temple’s Beasley School of Law, used a number of methods to draft their report, Pennsylvania Workers in Jeopardy: The Hidden Problem of Temporary Employment, released Sept. 28. They interviewed temporary workers, government officials, employment attorneys and worker advocates. They also reviewed government reports and data, as well as legal and policy research. The Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health contributed to the report.

“This report represents a first step in gaining a more comprehensive understanding about temp workers in Pennsylvania,” the authors said. “This report finds that the increasing phenomenon of temp work has placed Pennsylvania workers in jeopardy by making them vulnerable to workplace injury and financial harm.”

Staffing agencies employ nearly 3 million workers around the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2013 ProPublica analysis of workers’ compensation claims in five states shows that temp workers were 72 percent more likely to be injured on the job than permanent employees.

“When a host employer, for example, contracts away safety training duties to a staffing agency, the host employer washes its hands of responsibility for temp worker injuries,” the report states. “At the same time, the staffing agency, which is frequently competing in a crowded market, will look for ways to cut corners on temp workers’ training.”

The AFL-CIO stated this year that 54 OSHA inspectors in Pennsylvania are in charge of overseeing the safety of nearly 5.7 million workers.

In addition, OSHA’s fines nationwide often are relatively small, the Temple University report states. In the case of a temp worker’s death in 2010 at the CSC Sugar processing plant in Fairless Hills, PA, the agency fined the company $25,855. That later was reduced to $18,098 after a safety guard was installed at the plant.

“The slight chance of an OSHA inspection coupled with relatively small fines cannot truly deter host employers and staffing agencies from cutting costs in hazardous ways,” the report adds.

The authors suggest more studies on the issue, transparency in all aspects of the temp worker industry, clarification of “joint employer” obligations, accountability at all parts of the supply chain and education about whistleblower laws that could help encourage reporting of violations.

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