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OSHA Clarifies Safety Standards for Temporary Workers, Whistleblower Protections

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released three new bulletins as part of their ongoing Temporary Workers Initiative.  Started in April of 2013, the initiative aims to beef up safety protections for temporary workers by clarifying standards for both staffing agencies and the companies that hire temporary workers.  The new bulletins deal with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and whistleblower rights.  Released on March 13th, the bulletins do not create any new regulations, but clarify the initiative’s standards.

Among the initiative’s primary goals is to encourage companies to clearly spell out health and safety standards for both full-time and temporary employees.  David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, summarized the bulletins:

“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 temp employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”

Tressi Cordaro of the National Law Review analyzed the PPE piece:

When an employer deems PPE necessary, the employer provides both equipment (at no cost to the employee) and training to its employees. The employer is also responsible for ensuring that the PPE is not defective and if damaged, is not used. Additionally, there may be occasions when a medical evaluation is needed for the use of respiratory protection and this too is the employer’s responsibility. In the case of temporary workers, the host employer generally assumes responsibility for providing the proper PPE and training because it is most familiar with, and in the best position to assess, potential hazards. However, according to OSHA the staffing agency as a joint employer should ensure that the host employer provides the proper PPE and training and to that end, the staffing agency should also assess the potential hazards on an ongoing basis. In OSHA’s opinion, as joint employers, both the staffing agency and the host employer are liable for workers’ safety and health regardless of which one assumed responsibility for providing and paying for adequate PPE and training.

The bulletins also seek to clarify whistleblower protections for temporary workers.  While whistleblower protections have become a topic of national discussion in the post-Edward Snowden era, little has been done to beef up protections for U.S. workers.  More from Cordaro:

The third bulletin provides guidance regarding Whistleblower Protection Rights. Under section 11(c) of the OSH Act, workers who report injuries or raise safety and health issues with their employer or OSHA are protected from retaliation by the employer. Such action by an employee is considered a “protected activity.” According to OSHA, this protection extends to temporary workers who are protected from retaliation by both the staffing agency and the host employer. If a host employer requests the staffing agency to remove a temporary worker from its worksite after the temporary worker raised health and safety concerns or reported an injury, and the staffing agency obliges by moving the temporary worker to a new worksite, the staffing agency may still be liable for retaliation against that temporary worker. Temporary workers may file complaints of retaliation with OSHA against either the staffing agency or the host employer, or, in some circumstances both.

The bulletins are available in their entirety on OSHA’s website.


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