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Navigating OSHA regulations when using temporary employees

By Bill Ranous


Many businesses utilize temporary employees. There are several things to be aware of when you contract through a temporary agency to provide employees. Companies need to be cautious in assuming they are the employer of these workers. While this is the case in many circumstances, such as payroll and taxes, there are several other state and federal laws where the company needs to be concerned with the “joint employer” relationship.

One issue is who is responsible for compliance with the various OSHA regulations when temporary or leased employees are involved. Through interpretive letters and compliance directives to staff, OSHA asserts that it can be a shared, or “joint employer,” responsibility.

Due to its ongoing relationship with the employee, the temporary-staffing service could likely carry some recordkeeping and training obligations. However, the primary responsibility resides with the client employer, which creates and controls conditions at the workplace. For example, it’s the company that ensures machinery is guarded and necessary personal protective equipment is used. However, the temp agency would maintain all medical monitoring and exposure records created by a client employer on agency employees.

The issue of “client employer” versus “temporary-service agency” responsibility is focused mostly on the area of employee training. There is no waiver of the various training requirements simply because a temporary employee’s assignment is of a short duration. For instance, training or safety instruction must be given to construction employees, even for very short-term jobs. OSHA often finds that permanent employees are properly trained as required by a particular standard but their temporary counterparts aren’t. That results in citations and significant penalties.

The need to define responsibility is frequently raised with the hazard- communication standard and its training requirements. In those cases, the temporary-service agency would be expected to provide some generic training. The client employer would then have to provide the specifics about the hazardous chemicals used at the work site, along with training on the implementation of its hazard-communication program at the site.

Similarly, the blood-borne pathogens standard would require generic training by the leasing agency with site-specific training and implementation by the client employer. Under that standard, the temporary service would also need to ensure that employees receive required vaccinations and follow-up evaluations after exposure incidents.

OSHA points out in interpretive documents that a client employer may wish to specify the qualifications it will require of personnel supplied to it. That could include training on specific chemicals, use of personal protective equipment, and the like. It is also advisable that contracts between the parties clearly define their respective responsibilities so that all OSHA requirements are met.

A recordable injury or illness of a temporary worker should be entered on the client employer’s OSHA 300 log if the company performs day-to-day supervision of the worker. The temporary labor service should not record the case. OSHA regulation 1904.31 suggests that client employers and labor-supply services coordinate their recordkeeping efforts to ensure that a case is recorded only once.                   


Bill Ranous is the director of human-resources services at the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY). This article is drawn and edited from the July-August issue of Manufacturing Matters, MACNY’s newsletter.


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