Workers’ Rights

Published — April 29, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

OSHA strengthens protections for temp workers

Introduction

Federal regulators today announced new measures to protect 2.5 million temporary workers in America amid evidence such laborers are hurt more often than regular employees.

In December, the Center for Public Integrity and WBEZ/Chicago Public Media highlighted the case of temporary worker Carlos Centeno, who was badly burned in a Chicago-area factory in November 2011 and died three weeks later. Occupational Safety and Health Administration records obtained by the Center concluded that Centeno’s bosses refused to call 911 as his skin peeled and he screamed for help.

OSHA said today it had sent a memo to regional administrators “directing field inspectors to assess whether employers who use temporary workers are complying with their responsibilities” under the law.

“Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations,” the agency said in a press release. “Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand.”

As the Center/WBEZ story noted, recent research indicates temporary workers are more prone to injury than permanent ones due to often-subpar safety training and the feeling among some employers that temps are expendable. Last year, for example, researchers who studied nearly 4,000 amputations among workers in Illinois found that five of the 10 employers with the highest number of incidents were temporary staffing agencies.

The new OSHA memo, written by enforcement director Thomas Galassi, says the agency has received “a series of reports of temporary workers suffering fatal injuries during the first days on a job. In some cases, the employer failed to provide safety training or, if some instruction was given, it inadequately addressed the hazard, and this failure contributed to their death.”

Centeno was employed by a staffing agency at the time he was burned. A co-worker wound up driving him to a clinic after a delay of at least 38 minutes. Centeno didn’t make it to a hospital burn center until an hour after that.

OSHA recommended that the host employer, Raani Corp., which makes personal-care products, be criminally prosecuted for the accident. The agency has proposed a $473,000 civil fine against Raani, which is appealing. In court filings in a lawsuit brought by Centeno’s family, the company denies fault.

Centeno, a 50-year-old immigrant from Mexico, was among 4,693 workers who suffered fatal, work-related injuries in 2011. Three more workers died in 2011 than in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worker deaths in 2010 also rose when compared to the previous year: 4,690 died in 2010, while 4,551 died in 2009.

Read more in Inequality, Opportunity and Poverty

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