In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed into law, setting and enforcing minimum workplace standards to create a safe and healthful environment for American men and women through training, outreach, education and compliance assistance.
Prior to the promulgation of the OSH Act, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job each year. Although there has been significant progress in workplace safety and health in the intervening 40-plus years, significant problems remain. Each year, there are more than 4,000 workplace fatalities, and more than 3 million workers suffer a serious job-related injury or illness.
The OSH Act provides a framework for compliance and training to reduce employee exposure to unsafe conditions. But the key to preventing fatalities and injuries is to ensure that all workers are protected. One barrier to success in this effort is worker turnover.
Worker turnover in any industry is a challenge. Some positions are filled by permanent workers and some by temporary workers often through temporary help agencies. The waste and recycling industry uses more than 5,000 temporary workers per day. When workers start a new job they are at increased risk of injury, often due to the lack of safety-related training as well as unfamiliar job tasks and worksites. They lack the necessary experience or training to understand potential hazards and are not familiar with the measures they can take to protect themselves. Temporary workers face this situation on a regular basis. In many cases, an employer’s robust training program can overcome these obstacles. But history shows us that this is not always the case.
In the summer of 2012, a temporary employee working for a waste collection company in New Jersey, collapsed in 90-degree weather and died due to heat stroke. Another temporary worker perished of heat stroke in the summer of 2013 while working as part of a waste collecting crew, leaving his nine-year-old daughter to grow up without a father.
In response to these and other fatalities, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a Temporary Worker Initiative, ensuring that staffing agencies and host employers understand their safety and health responsibilities under the OSH Act. The Temporary Worker Initiative, using enforcement, outreach and training, is designed to ensure that temporary workers are protected from workplace hazards. OSHA defines a “temporary” employee as any employee paid by a temporary help agency, regardless of whether their job is for one day or over a long period. OSHA could hold both the host and temporary employers responsible for violative conditions that impact temporary workers.
In keeping with the national focus on making workplaces safe for temporary workers, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA) Safety Committee has established a Safety Working Group to examine issues related to the safety of temporary workers in the waste and recycling industry. Although each host employer is responsible for providing training specific to each job and its associated hazards, an additional goal is to identify basic safety training requirements that should be enforced across the labor pool when hiring for jobs in the waste and recycling industry. For example, a temporary worker hired during the summer time to be a collection helper must be acclimatized to working in a hot environment. A host employer may not know whether a temporary employee is used to working in heat-wave conditions.
Although each case involving a health and safety violation would be examined based on the specific facts of each scenario, staffing agencies and host employers are jointly responsible for maintaining a safe workplace for temporary workers. Host employers and temporary help agencies need to work together.
For more information about the NW&RA safety program contact Safety Director Phil Hagan at [email protected] or (202) 687-7641.