When a worker’s tenure at a particular workplace is brief, several factors may increase their risk for injury: unfamiliarity with new work practices and surroundings; limited safety training; a disproportionate share of younger workers; or an inability to recognize hazards and refuse hazardous work, or to demand appropriate protective equipment for fear of dismissal. Agency employers may not be sufficiently aware of the hazards faced by temporary workers at each of the different worksites they supply. Host employers looking for a short-term worker may invest less time in providing them with appropriate training and protection equipment. In addition, having two separate parties who are responsible for worker safety raises the possibility that neither will take full responsibility to prepare the worker adequately.
The precariousness of temporary workers’ employment may also place them at greater risk for adverse physical and psychosocial hazards in their employment that lead to injury. In surveys, temporary workers have been found to be more likely than their permanent peers to experience “mismatched placements”, lack of familiarity with their host employer’s worksite, limited communication about physical hazards, which creates barriers to risk mitigation, and lower levels of job control and security.
The temporary help supply (THS) workforce in Washington State has grown rapidly since 1990 as compared to that of the directly employed workforce. Over the same time period the distribution of temporary help supply workers has spread beyond its traditional focus in office services towards higher hazard sectors such as construction, food processing, light assembly and warehousing/logistics.
This project uses both administrative workers’ compensation data and survey-derived data to both compare temporary workers’ claims rates to their standard-employed peers and to explore the factors that could be driving the higher injury rates for temporary workers.
The overall goal of this project is to evaluate the fundamental risk factors associated with temporary agency employment by:
- Measuring the magnitude of workers’ compensation claim incidence among workers employed by temporary agencies and comparing these to workers employed under standard employment arrangements. We will isolate the effect of temporary work status and the probability of injury by controlling for other factors such as age, sex, industry and tenure.
- Conducting interviews with recently injured temporary and permanent workers, matched by workplace and demographic characteristics and covering such topics as:
- Most common hazards and injuries.
- Whether they felt able to, or knew how to report hazard.
- Safety training provided by the temp agency and the client businesses.
- Safety equipment provided and by whom.
- Priority given to safety by temp agency staff and client supervisors.
- Whether temporary workers were given more hazardous work.
- The type and format of educational materials that would be effective in improving safety.
- Conducting interviews with temporary agency managers and managers of client businesses which use temporary employees and covering such topics as:
- Whether temporary employees are given more hazardous jobs.
- What training, supervision and personal protective equipment is given to temporary workers.
- Whether temporary workers know how to report an injury hazard.
- Whether temporary workers do not report injuries or hazardous job conditions due to fear of job loss or lack of knowledge.
- Whether temporary workers are asked to do jobs different from what they were sent to do.
- Developing appropriate educational materials and dissemination methods tailored to each type of industry and to each party in the temporary labor market. Areas of focus for educational materials include:
- Hazard awareness.
- Safe work practices.
- Personal protective equipment.
Employee rights to a safe workplace and to workers’ compensation benefits.
Smith CK, Silverstein BA, Bonauto DK, Adams DA, Fan ZJ, Foley MP (2010). Temporary workers in Washington State. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.20728.
Foley M (1998). Flexible work, hazardous work: The impact of temporary work arrangements on occupational safety and health in Washington State, 1991-1996. Research in Human Capital and Development. Eds. Sorkin A and Farquhar I. vol. 12: 123-147.