Workers’ compensation system fails to protect temp workers

The recession has taken a toll not only on consumersm but also on businesses-letting go of full-time employees, businesses increasingly have turned to temporary workers to fill employment vacancies. The temp industry now has 2.8 million workers, but these workers face a significantly higher chance of getting hurt on the job.

Temps are usually sent to jobs with little or even no training at times and the industries where they find themselves employed usually necessitate a lot of training, such as manufacturing and warehousing. The most common injuries discovered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took place when untrained workers were cleaning chemical tanks, working in the heat on a roof or operating heavy machinery. Sometimes temps are not provided with the same tools and materials that direct workers are given, such as the instance of a 24-year-old temp worker in North Carolina who was recently run over and killed by a garbage compactor while directing traffic at a landfill because he was not given the steel toe boots other workers were given. OSHA even recorded that the management did not feel it was necessary to provide him with the requisite equipment, simply because he was a temporary worker.

Despite the increasing reliance on temps, protecting them has remained a challenge for the workers’ compensation system. Ordinarily, a company with a higher injury rate has to pay higher insurance premiums, so they are incentivized to promote worker safety. However, when temps get hurt, the temp firm and the company each point the figure at one another, with the firm usually paying the workers’ compensation premiums, even though it doesn’t control the job site. Without this economic pressure, companies do not focus on protecting temporary workers.

OSHA director is working on increasing awareness about employers’ responsibilities towards temp workers, but is still struggling to make major changes. While North Carolina employees wait to see what happens, they should remember their employers are supposed to create a safe working environment for them and when workers do get injured, they can file a workers’ compensation claim to recover medical costs.

Source: Minn Post, “Temporary work, lasting harm,” Michael Grabell, Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson, Dec. 23, 2013

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