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OSHA Fall Protection and Training Requirements for Temporary Workers

Oct 26, 2015 12:48:28 PM

In today’s business environment, temporary workers are a fact of life.  From filling predictable labor shortages to shoring unforeseen gaps in staffing, a temporary worker can save the day.  That said, without proper planning and policies, temps can also expose your company to OSHA citations and fines, especially if they work at heights.  Whether your company regularly relies on temporary workers or is considering their first-time use, it is important to understand your company’s obligations to protect temps working at heights. 

Let’s assume a temp worker is headed to your facility today.  Your temp is young, relatively inexperienced in the workforce, and eager to prove his or her worth.  Chances are good your temporary is unlikely to complain about working at heights because he needs the job, and your temp probably realizes any voiced concerns about fall protection will get back to the staffing agency. What are the chances this employee will speak up about fall hazards or the lack of fall protection training?

According to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels, ” New workers are three or four times more likely to be injured or killed on the job than workers who have a year of seniority…they’re often given the most hazardous jobs. And host employers are less likely to devote resources to train them.”

If our hypothetical temp has an accident, folks will ask if the worker had proper fall protection training.  Your temp agency may assume that as the host employer, your company provided the training.  But short of asking, how would they know?  Likewise, as the host employer, you might assume that the temp agency performed this role, but again, without verification, how would you know?

The scenario just described may sound far-fetched, but it happens more often than you might think.  Take the cellular industry as an example.  Cell phone companies routinely hire temps to maintain towers and every year, we hear countless stories about falls by tower climbing temps.  Earlier this summer, a temp worker who made repeated requests for a fall protection harness suffered two broken arms after falling 12 feet through a roof.  When these types of accidents occur, OSHA holds both the host employer and the staffing agency responsible for providing fall protection and producing records to document fall training and hazard communication.  The second example discussed above resulted in $367,000 in fines.

The best way to protect your company and eliminate ambiguity over responsibility is to have an upfront discussion about fall protection before signing a contract with a temp agency.  Commit to written responsibilities in the contract to ensure both parties have a clear understanding of their respective obligations.

Staffing Agency Obligations

  • Inquire about a potential worker’s assigned workplace. Lack of knowledge about working conditions is not an excuse in the eyes of the law
  • Although temp agencies are not required to become experts on specific workplace hazards, the agency should understand the general nature of potential fall hazards and how to protect workers from these hazards
  • The agency has an obligation to inquire about fall hazards and verify the host employer is fulfilling its obligations to maintain a safe work environment

Host Employer Obligations

  • Communicate with the staffing agency about the specific nature of work to be performed, including if temps will work at heights.
  • Train temp workers in the same fashion that permanent employees are trained
  • Provide appropriate PPE and fall arrest systems for temporary workers
  • Document fall protection training for all temps

Parting Thoughts
Remember, both the host employer and the staffing agency have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of a temporary employee and OSHA can find both parties liable for injuries or accidental deaths in the event of a fall.  Communicate with your temp agency to ensure both parties understand their obligations for employee training.  Finally, review your written training procedures and maintain formal training logs to document each temporary employee’s participation your safety program. If you have questions about fall protection equipment, training, or documentation requirements, contact Diversified Fall Protection for further assistance.

Diversified Fall Protection is a complete turnkey provider of OSHA compliant fall protection systems.  To learn more, contact Diversified Fall Protection for expert assistance with your fall arrest and fall protection safety requirements.