The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s campaign to improve safety for temporary employees has presented challenges and opportunities for staffing providers.

In its 2013 initiative, OSHA made the staffing agency and host employer jointly responsible for training temporary workers. The premise was that temporary workers are at greater risk of workplace injury than the direct employees of clients.

I offer six tips for navigating the Temporary Worker Initiative:

  1. Client selection and review. Do your due diligence so you know the exact circumstance into which you are placing your temporary workers. By doing a “site safety review,” you can highlight areas of potential safety concerns and work with the host company to address them before placing any employees. A review of the company’s OSHA logs and accident reports will reveal the level and severity of accidents and help a staffing agency determine if it even wants to partner with the client. During this process, involve several stakeholders rather than leave the burden solely on the sales team.
  2. Define responsibilities. When preparing a contract with a new client, clearly define each party’s safety responsibilities. OSHA advises that staffing agencies should be responsible for “general” safety training and the client should take responsibility for training specific to its facility. For staffing agencies, some of the general safety orientation can be covered in the temporary employee enrollment materials and handbook provided to new employees. Additionally, “physical demand analysis” forms can help ensure an employee is up to the physical requirements of a specific assignment. Moving forward, some agencies are looking at more dynamic methods to present safety information such as video or PowerPoint presentations.
  3. Have a regulations expert. Appoint a specific individual to understand the regulations, stay on top of changes and communicate information to the team. OSHA’s TWI regulations are clearly set forth on its website and supplemented with bulletins that provide specific information in a straightforward manner. Responsibility for safety should never be vague.
  4. Confirm the training. Staffing agencies have a proactive obligation to ensure their temporary and part-time workers are getting the same specific safety training as the client’s direct employees. However, employees may be hesitant to report problems, so it is often incumbent on the staffing provider to identify gaps in training. By fostering open communication with clients, staffing agencies can build trust, which is critical for identifying and resolving training issues quickly and effectively.
  5. Bring representation. If there is an OSHA inspection or inquiry, be courteous and respectful, but also be accompanied by an attorney to ensure the inspector is not overstepping the intent of the TWI. Because OSHA-related law is a specialty, a corporate attorney may not be enough and specialized help is advised.
  6. Protect the boundaries. OSHA has reiterated that it does not expect staffing firms to become site-specific safety experts. However, they must ensure the proper training actually occurs. There is a fine distinction between the responsibilities and there have been examples of field inspectors issuing citations to staffing agencies for safety violations over which they had no practical control. OSHA is committed to addressing this overreach and you should bring all concerns to its attention.

TWI has without a doubt spurred cooperation on safety between staffing agencies, host companies and OSHA. Understanding the initiative and taking advantage of its protections can give staffing companies the opportunity to show that, like OSHA, they care greatly about the safety of their temporary workforce