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Employers’ ‘Expendable’ Contingent Workers Need New Workplace Safety Protection

As more and more employers duck paying workers decent wages, health care and training costs by hiring contingent/temporary workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must step up its protection efforts for those workers, a new report urges.

Martha McLuskey, one of the authors of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) report, At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions, says:

Increasingly, employers are treating them as expendable, accepting high injury rates because the company is largely insulated from the economic consequences. As a result, contingent workers suffer frequent injuries on the job.     

The report examines worker safety issues in four areas where the use of contingent workers is growing: construction, farm work, warehouse labor hired indirectly through staffing agencies and hotel housekeepers working through temp firms. It also notes that contingent workers are disproportionately racial minorities and often come from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds.

Contingent workers, says McLuskey, have “little job security, low wages, minimal opportunities for advancement and, all too often, hazardous working conditions.”   

There are several factors that magnify the dangers contingent workers face. They don’t frequently get the training they need and, the report says, “high injury rates are acceptable to many employers since the employees are non-permanent, effectively expendable."

Employers who hire workers on a contingent basis do not directly pay for workers’ compensation and health insurance and are therefore likely to be insulated from the insurance premium rate increases that would ordinarily follow frequent workers’ injuries.

The report's recommendations for OSHA include:

  • Requiring better education and training for contingent workers;
  • Strengthening enforcement of existing regulations affecting industries in which contingent workers are common;
  • Issuing ergonomics standards for affected industries; and
  • Enhancing the foreign-language capabilities of its staff so they can better serve the contingent workforce.

It also calls on Congress to adopt legislation empowering workers to bring suit against violators of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, rather than relying solely on regulatory agencies to identify and pursue violations.

Read or download the full report.

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