On April 15, 2013, 26-year-old Marine and Iraq War veteran David Eleidjian was assigned as a temporary worker to a Henkel Corporation manufacturing plant in Bay Point, Calif. Eleidjian was tasked with scraping adhesive from mixing equipment just 12 inches from an unguarded shaft spinning at up to 350 rotations per minute.
The coveralls provided to Eleidjian were too big and one of his sleeves got tangled in the shaft. Unable to free himself, Eleidjian was pulled into the mixer. Although taken to a hospital, he died later that day from his injuries.
Eleidjian’s accident represents just one example put forth by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to demonstrate the importance of safety for temporary workers.
A series of accidents involving temporary workers prompted the agency to put a special focus on the industry last year. And it has dedicated a portion of its website, www.osha.gov, to temporary worker safety, including who has responsibility for safety and who needs to track injuries when incidents occur.
Among OSHA’s concerns are that some companies may use temps to avoid meeting compliance obligations and that temps can get placed in the most hazardous jobs. The agency is also worried temps may not get adequate safety training or explanations of their duties.
Certainly, there’s no arguing that keeping temporary workers safe is as important as ever.
In addition to OSHA’s scrutiny, workers’ comp carriers are becoming more cautious about business. It’s a hard market, and premiums are increasing. Firms with poor safety experience can see their premiums rise even further.
What can staffing firms do? There are some best practices that firms can follow.
Kevin P. Kilcoyne, director of staffing insurance, at the Barrow Group LLC, an insurance brokerage specializing in the temporary staffing industry, advises taking a three-pronged approach, in how a staffing firm:
- selects clients.
- selects temporary employees.
- reacts when an injury happens.
When looking into prospective clients, a staffing firm may research them via an establishment search on the OSHA website to uncover any citations, if those citations were corrected and whether the company faced fines, Kilcoyne says.
Staffing firms also need to communicate with existing clients to make sure environments are safe, and he advises conducting walk-throughs of client sites on a quarterly basis.
“If there is an accident, we encourage our clients to do immediate walkthroughs,” Kilcoyne says. “Re-enact the events that took place. Cite the issues because the injury probably came from one of two things — an unsafe work practice or an unsafe work condition.” Then firms can point out to the client where corrections can be made or, if need be, sever the relationship with the clients.
Documentation is important as well, he says.
Staffing firms should document walkthroughs and formal training. Written job descriptions are also important, especially if the need arises to show OSHA that a staffing firm had a legitimate reason to believe an employee was safe. Sometimes a client will reassign an employee to a different position than what was agreed to without notifying the staffing firm.
Kilcoyne also suggests getting a copy of the training or certification that client provides. “Don’t rely on the host employer to provide that on a moment’s notice because you may not get the cooperation you think you are going to get.”
“As an advocate of loss control, paying attention to details and making sure that your employees are in a safe environment, that may mean walking away from a client if necessary,” says Robert Thompson, vice president of insurance provider World Wide Specialty Programs. “That may be difficult to do, but being hard on a client and making sure they have safety protocols in place are an imperative. Of course, that may be difficult because sometimes safety costs more.”
Prudent staffing firms do site inspections of clients before they bring an account on, and they have a checklist and a professional walk-through to evaluate a site, Thompson says. But not all staffing firms take these precautions when bringing in new clients.
“There are some that really pay attention, and there are some that just do not,” Thompson says. “We try to help the staffing firms that do not have a risk engineering culture within their company, because without it people get hurt.”
One of the most hazardous timeframes for injuries are within the first 30 days of hiring. “Staffing firms have to be able to have a conversation with their client companies and the topic is risk engineering is an asset and has to be important to them,” Thompson says.
Bringing in a client with problems may bring in immediate revenue, but the problems may hurt the bottom line in the future as workers’ compensation premiums rise.
Screening applicants thoroughly is also important, says Barrow Group’s Kilcoyne. And it’s something insurance carriers are looking at more closely, including drug and alcohol testing and other types of screening such as integrity testing.
Correct training of workers also plays a part, according to Jeff Nugent, managing director at Contingent Workforce Solutions, a firm that provides independent contractor compliance and payrolling solutions and has extensive experience in the oil and gas sector.
“A proper health and safety program consists of both a proactive and a reactive approach,” Nugent says. “Proactive to help prevent workplace injuries from happening and a reactive approach to make sure you do everything you can to help minimize the injury and potential damages if a workplace incident was to occur.”
Workers should be educated on workplace hazards and how they can do their job safely with both site-specific and job-specific training.
A site-specific orientation for workers includes such things as letting workers know who the safety coordinator is for the site, where safety equipment and information are located and where proper exits are, Nugent says. It includes training on any hazards specific to the location.
Job-specific training is also a must. “If they are heavy equipment operators or they are dealing with confined space or working with height using scaffolding or ladders, make sure that they’ve received the proper training before they go and work on site,” he says. “And have proof that the training took place.”
While being proactive is the best medicine, third parties — like payrolling firms or staffing agencies — must have a plan for when something goes wrong.
“When an incident happens you need to have a very clear incident response in terms of policies, procedures, who does what, who gets communicated to when an injury happens,” he says. That includes notifying regulators.
Measures for getting injured workers rehabilitated are important as well. “Having clear procedures on documenting the incident, and then having clearly defined and documented steps on treatments and rehabilitation taken in getting the worker back to work in a normal setting is kind of the optimal situation,” Nugent says.
Safety is always important, but right now it’s also a hard market for workers’ compensation coverage. Rates are up and carriers are careful about what exposures they will cover.
Chris Ottesen, vice president of finance and risk at People 2.0, says some carriers are not renewing workers’ comp coverage for staffing firms or are raising premiums even when there are decent risks. Insurers are also auditing payroll more frequently to ensure the proper workers’ comp classification codes are being used.
“They’re auditing twice a year,” Ottesen says. “It used to be a once-a-year kind of thing, and they are requiring much greater scrutiny and compliance.”
World Wide’s Thompson says premiums are up 30 percent to 40 percent from two years ago. And that’s a serious concern for staffing firms because workers’ comp usually represents the biggest expense for staffing firms, after payroll.
“It’s such a tight marketplace out there it’s hard to find a very safety-oriented client company; they’re out there but they’re not everywhere,” Thompson says. “At the end of the day, client selection is incredibly important, loss control is incredibly important, managing your [experience modification factor] is incredibly important. And of course [making sure] the temps that you hire …are capable of doing the job that they’re hired for and that they perform the job they are hired for and no other.”
Keeping workers safe should be paramount no matter what.
Cal/OSHA cited Henkel $200,825 for the accident that cost Eleidjian his life. Two staffing firms were cited as well.
“This tragedy was completely preventable and underscores what can go wrong when employers do not take the necessary measures to correct workplace safety hazards,” Christine Baker, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations, said in a press release when the citations were issued.