Temporary construction workers play an important role, filling short-term needs on jobsites as laborers or running miscellaneous errands. However, construction sites can be hazardous places to the untrained individual. When using temporary workers, a contractor must take care that they are meeting their training and compliance obligations related to jobsite safety.

OSHA recently launched an initiative aimed at protecting temporary workers from jobsite hazards. David Michaels, assistant U.S. secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, stated, “Host employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for the temporary employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”

While the extent of responsibility for staffing agencies and host employers depends on the specific case, staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe environment for temporary workers, including, for example, ensuring that OSHA’s training, hazard communication, and recordkeeping requirements are fulfilled.

The key is communication between the host contractor and the temporary staffing agency. Set out the responsibilities for safety, training, and regulatory compliance in the contract, but be aware that while spelling out the contractual obligations of each party helps to define roles, it will not always protect a contractor from being held responsible by OSHA. The agency could hold both the host and temporary staffing agency responsible for violations.

Communicate your needs

The contractor’s goal should be to protect temporary workers from hazards just like they would any other employee. The contractor should communicate its labor needs and the jobsite conditions to the temporary staffing agency, and each entity should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent or correct.

For example, it would be prudent for a staffing agency to provide workers with basic construction hazard awareness training, such as OSHA 10- or 30-hour courses, while the host contractor provides any needed or required training that may apply to site-specific work.

The host contractor should also consider which tasks are appropriate for temporary workers. For example, it is not appropriate for a contractor to direct a temporary worker to run a forklift unloading materials unless that contractor has fulfilled its training and evaluation requirements spelled out in OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.178. In this example, the contractor could rely on training provided and documented by the temporary staffing agency, but the contractor is still obligated to conduct the performance evaluations required by OSHA to certify the worker’s competency to operate their specific equipment under the site-specific conditions. Not only is this required, but it is prudent to ensure safe and productive conditions on the jobsite. Many accidents are caused by people performing tasks that they are not qualified to do.

Treat temporary workers like you would any other employee. Take the time to train them and teach them to identify the potential hazards that are specific to your jobsite. This takes time, but it also protects people from injuries and helps save lives. Make sure all of the jobsite personnel understand the duties and limitations of the temporary workers on the site so they do not get assigned to tasks they have not been trained to handle.

Finally, make sure you follow OSHA’s recordkeeping rules regarding temporary workers. If a temporary worker is injured while under your day-to-day supervision, you must record that injury in your company’s OSHA 300 log. The fact that their paycheck is coming from a temporary staffing agency does not negate your responsibility to record the injury just as though it was one of your employees.

Jim Rogers is director of the Western OSHA Education Center at the Del E. Webb School of Construction, Arizona State University. E-mail jimrogers@asu.edu.