Chances are, if you haven't utilized temporary employees in your workplace, you've interacted with or heard accounts from someone who has. The use of a variable workforce to minimize human capital expense has resulted in substantial cost benefits for employers with fluctuating production schedules. In turn, there is an abundance of staffing agencies popping up, eager and ready to recruit for and fill those contingent positions.
With the demand for high-quality workers in large quantities coupled with short time-to-fill requirements, it is easy to see how certain details are skimped on in the process and employee safety, believe it or not, is a huge one. OSHA's April 2013 initiative to protect temporary workers sought to bring attention to the issue of safety for temporary workers and change how worker safety is handled by both the host and actual employer. There are responsibilities for employee safety on both sides of the employment fence, and I will identify where partnership opportunities lies between a host employer and staffing agency.
As the former safety leader for a large staffing company, I can say with confidence that when asked, "What does safety mean to you?" leaders from nine out of 10 staffing companies will tell you plainly: "workers' comp." To a safety professional, that response sounds like nails on a chalkboard.
Focus Is Not Safety
When you think about it, staffing companies are not safety professionals. Staffing companies' profitable trade is the ability to draw in, interview and select a person to fill a position. Did you know that the two highest-cost burdens for staffing agencies are workers' compensation insurance and unemployment? Workers' compensation, all of a sudden, seems like a logical measurement for safety to a company whose function is to hire people for outside settings. Staffing companies have limited expertise or internal control in effective minimization one of their highest-cost burdens.
While staffing companies will track workers' compensation as a means to measure safety performance, industry is tracking various OSHA rates [e.g. TCIR, DART and LWIR] along with any developed internal metrics. These metrics are affected by both full-time employees and any temporary workers at the facility who are under day-to-day supervision from the host facility.
When you look at the big picture, the industrial facility is responsible for controlling the environment that its own employees and temporary employees work in, and recording the injuries from both types of employees. On top of that, when OSHA comes knocking at the door of an industrial facility, citations for workplace safety violations in most cases are going to be awarded to the facility itself, not the staffing company. (Unless it can be proved that both the facility and staffing company knowingly engaged workers in unsafe conditions. This is possible, but not extremely likely at this point based on past evidence of OSHA citations).
From this, we can extract three pivotal points: (1) Staffing companies want to reduce their workers' compensation costs but might not have a good idea of how and where to start; (2) Industrial facilities aim to reduce their overall injury rates that include both their own and temporary employees; and (3) Neither an industrial facility nor a staffing agency wants OSHA showing up unexpectedly at the door. Does anyone else notice common overlap between these conclusions?
Developing the Partnership
There are four stages in the process of utilizing a contingent workforce that require safety to be planned out.
The contract – When it comes to employee safety – whether it is through training, participation in safety initiatives, committees, etc., – it is best to lay out responsibilities between the two parties in the very beginning (i.e. the contract phase). While OSHA states that the host employer and staffing company must ensure proper training of an associate, it does not explicitly explain who is responsible for administering that training. This can be done multiple ways;
- The host employer can train the temporary employee onsite, the same way they would their own employee. This is not a co-employment issue; in fact, OSHA does explicitly state that in terms of safety, temporary employees and full-time employees should be treated equally.
- The staffing company can administer a training packet developed by the host employer.
- The two can share responsibilities for training (e.g., the staffing company can be responsible for generic required training such as hazard communication and bloodborne pathogens, while site-specific training will be administered onsite by the host employer).
Regardless of what is decided in the contract phase, ensure it is documented and understood by both parties, as the contract should be audited periodically for confirmation both parties are performing their agreed-upon responsibilities.
Developing the job descriptions – Simply put, this is ensuring the right person is matched to the job. This includes, at a minimum, having the recruiter who is responsible for staffing an account come out to that facility to view and understand the job tasks needing to be filled and the requirements – both physical and mental – for successfully performing that job. Once an accurate job description is written, it serves as a great tool for a recruiter when interviewing possible candidates. This can be time consuming, but should be performed for each job position.
Auditing – The need for auditing applies to both the host employer and the staffing company. Remember when I mentioned that staffing companies want to decrease their workers' compensation cost but might not have the complete know-how to get started? Auditing is a great place to solicit staffing company participation. These employees, after all, do belong to them from a human resources perspective, and they are paying their potential workers' compensation costs.
Industrial facilities can use this as an opportunity for a new set of eyes on their environment, and staffing companies now have an avenue to proactively ensure the safety of their employees. Auditing is a broad statement and can apply to anything from surveying employees about their egress routes and machine guarding to ensuring they are performing daily forklift inspections. The possibilities are endless.
Periodic review – Every so often (annually is a good starting point), both the industrial facility and staffing company should sit down together and verify that responsibilities outlined in the contract are being fulfilled. Training is, and will continue to be, a hot topic. Who is responsible for forklift certifications for the temporary associates? Can you prove that these certifications are being carried out for the current employees? Are medical surveillance records being retained for associates where required?
Contract review is important to catch anything that previously was missed, and also to identify addendums, changes or improvements that should be considered in the future. This also can keep you out of hot water from a regulatory standpoint; it's a great way to show proactive handling of safety requirements for all employees.
This is just the starting point for developing a mutually beneficial partnership between an industrial facility and a staffing company. As the relationship matures and incident rates and workers' compensation costs collectively decrease, the door for new improvement opportunity opens. Workplace safety is and will remain a shared responsibility between a host employer and staffing company, especially with OSHA progressing in the data-gathering stages of the temporary employee initiative.
Taking a partnership approach will place you ahead of the curve when enhancements are made down the road to further ensure temporary workforce safety.
Cameron Colby is a senior environmental, health and safety consultant for Life and Safety Consultants, Inc. in Greenville, S.C. Most recently, as the corporate safety leader for a large southeastern staffing agency, Colby delivered a culture and expectation of proactive safety improvement to an industry lacking in safety leadership and accountability. A graduate of the University of South Carolina with a B.S. in civil and environmental engineering, Colby began her EHS career with General Electric's Aviation division, graduating from the two-year Operations Management Leadership Program with a specialization in environmental, health and safety.