The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released new guidelines emphasizing the requirement employers treat temporary workers the same as existing employees with respect to workplace safety. These guidelines serve as a reminder that the temporary staffing agencies and host employers share joint responsibility for temporary worker safety. The guidelines strongly recommend that temporary staffing agencies and their host employers set out their respective responsibilities for compliance with applicable OSHA standards in their written contracts.
While the extent of any responsibility under the OSH Act (and any other worker protection laws) is dependent on the specific facts of each case, OSHA could hold both the staffing agency and host employer responsible for conditions that violate the OSH Act, including a lack of adequate training of temporary employees regarding workplace hazards. OSHA requires the staffing agency and the host employer to communicate and to work together to ensure the necessary health and safety protections are in place for all temporary workers.
The guidance emphasizes that:
- Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers' assigned workplaces and must ensure they are sending workers to a safe workplace.
- Ignorance of hazards at a workplace is not a defense for the staffing agency.
- The staffing agency must determine what conditions exist at their client's facility, what hazards the temporary employee may encounter and how best to ensure protection for the temporary employees.
- The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host employer has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
- The host employer has a duty to provide training and safety and health protections to temporary employees which are identical to those provided to their permanent employees.
OSHA suggests the written agreement between the staffing agency and the host employer specifically address training duties. Staffing agencies might provide general safety and health training while the host employers would provide specific training tailored to a specific workplace and its equipment and hazards.
In light of OSHA's current emphasis on temporary employee safety, staffing agencies and employers who utilize temporary workers should review their safety training policies and their agency/client agreements to address the issue of joint liability for worker safety and training.