November 9, 2023

OSHA Outlines Employer Responsibilities to Protect Temporary Workers

Two bulletins published recently under OSHA’s Temporary Worker Initiative outline the responsibilities of staffing agencies and host employers to protect temporary workers from ergonomic hazards and to safeguard the health and safety of temporary workers in warehouses. The agency explains that temporary workers are “supplied to a host employer and paid by a staffing agency, whether or not the job is actually temporary.” As temporary workers have the same rights to safe and healthy workplaces as other employees, staffing agencies and host employers share responsibility as joint employers for temporary workers’ health and safety, OSHA states.

The bulletin “Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders” (PDF) outlines staffing agencies’ and host employers’ roles in protecting temporary workers from soft tissue injuries or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These conditions may be caused by routine exposure to ergonomic risk factors such as forceful exertion, awkward postures, contact stress, repetitive movements, and vibration. Workers may also encounter ergonomic risks when lifting heavy objects, reaching overhead, working in squatting or kneeling postures, performing repetitive tasks, or using vibrating tools. According to the bulletin’s appendix, transportation and warehousing, healthcare and social assistance, and retail trade are the three industries with the highest incidence rates of MSDs.

The bulletin states that the host employer is usually in the best position to develop facility ergonomics programs “because it generally controls the means, methods, and processes by which the work is accomplished.” OSHA urges the host employer to take the lead on hazard analysis, share the results with the staffing agency, install controls to mitigate ergonomic hazards, and ensure employees are trained on the purpose and proper use of controls. The staffing agency is responsible for reviewing the host employer’s policies and procedures prior to assigning employees, conducting a walkthrough to identify tasks that temporary workers will perform as well as relevant controls, conducting hazard assessments for tasks performed by temporary workers, and verifying controls for ergonomic hazards. Both employers share responsibility for ensuring that employees receive training on ergonomic hazards and controls in a language and vocabulary they can understand, as well as for thoroughly investigating MSDs. OSHA’s bulletin also outlines two example scenarios concerning ergonomic hazards in healthcare and warehouse settings.

The second bulletin, “Warehouse Industry Employment” (PDF), addresses hazards encountered by temporary workers employed in warehouses. These include ergonomic stressors related to handling heavy or bulky objects, as well as physical hazards created by forklifts and other equipment, chemical hazards, electrical hazards, temperature extremes, slip, trip, and fall hazards, and blocked exit routes. This bulletin also explains that the host employer is usually best able to provide a safe workplace. The staffing agency is responsible for ensuring that the host employer has met their responsibilities, as well as for providing general safety and health training for temporary employees. However, while the host employer may require temporary workers to have certain qualifications in its contract with the staffing agency, “the host employer is responsible for providing any training required by an OSHA standard that relates to the specific hazards found in the host employer’s workplace,” the bulletin states. “In summary, neither employer may avoid their responsibilities under the [Occupational Safety and Health] Act by requiring another party to perform them.”

Both bulletins are available for download in English and Spanish from OSHA’s Protecting Temporary Workers webpage.

Related: The article "The Dual-Employer Relationship" from the February 2019 Synergist discusses who is responsible for the safety of temporary workers.