With the holidays fast approaching, you may be on the lookout for some extra help – especially if you own a small retail business. But you don’t want to hire more full-time employees – the rest of the year, you get by just fine with the staff you have.
So temporary workers it is. Perhaps you contract with a staffing agency to place workers with your business. Maybe you go it alone and fish for leads via your business’s social media channels. (For more tips on selecting seasonal workers, read our post, “Hiring for the Holidays.”)
No matter which approach you take, there is one universal truth about temporary workers: according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these employees are high risk for work injuries and illnesses. This brings up a few questions. For starters, why is this group so high risk? What can you do to keep these employees safe? And are you responsible for covering your temp workers with Workers’ Comp Insurance?
Let’s get some answers.
The Plight of the Temp Worker
While crunching the numbers on workplace injuries, OSHA noticed an alarming trend: many of the reports involved temporary workers suffering serious or fatal injuries – some on the first day of the job.
There could be a few reasons why this group of workers is so vulnerable:
- There may be a lack of communication between the host employer and staffing agency about workplace conditions.
- Temporary workers are in a new environment and don’t know the workplace hazards.
- Host employers may not realize they are obligated to train temporary staff in workplace safety.
Last year, in response to the issue of temp worker safety, OSHA launched its Temporary Worker Initiative, which provides outreach, training, and enforcement. Your business needs to understand and follow these OSHA guidelines if you hire temp workers, lest you be fined for noncompliance. For example, you can be fined up to $7,000 if you fail to ensure that employees who carry heavy loads wear steel-toe boots. You can read more about citations and penalties here: “Types of OSHA Violations.”
Protect Workers of All Walks
OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health created Recommended Practices so that staffing agencies and host employers can better protect temporary workers. We recommend reading the complete guide, but for your convenience, here are some of the takeaways:
- Stay in touch with the staffing agency. The agency is responsible for verifying the safety of their temp workers. That may mean they need to inspect your safety programs and step in when a temp worker is injured while working for you or has a “close call.” Keeping the lines of communication open with the staffing agency can help you both efficiently investigate and address safety risks.
- Train temp workers like they are your own. Regardless of whether or not you work with a staffing agency, you must provide safety training for your temporary workers just as you would for your own employees.
- Read your contract with the agency carefully. Your contract with the staffing agency should define the temporary worker’s tasks and the safety responsibilities of each employer. That way, there’s no confusion over which party is liable if something goes wrong.
- Know your obligations. Though you and the staffing agency are both responsible for investigating worker injuries, OSHA requires that injury and illness records be kept by you. That’s because as the host employer, you control the manner of the temp employee’s work. Usually, your contract with the staffing agency will make this obligation clear.
Though OSHA doesn’t touch on this, we’d like to add another point: get your Workers’ Comp obligations sorted out. If you do work with a staffing agency, be sure the contract states which party is responsible for providing Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Typically, that is the agency’s duty. But if you are hiring seasonal workers on your own, you may need to cover those employees with your policy. To determine your coverage obligations, look up your state in our guide to Workers' Compensation laws.
If your state requires that your business cover seasonal workers with Workers’ Comp, you can face serious fines for noncompliance. You can read about one business’s serious misstep in the post, “State Sues Small Business over Workers' Compensation Insurance Violation.”
The best way to ensure the safety of your workers and your business is to understand your obligations for creating a safe work environment, educate your workers on keeping themselves protected, and do everything in your power to enforce workplace safety. Learn more safety tips in the post, “How to Prevent Workers’ Comp Claims.”