In April 2013, two workplace disasters occurred in the same week. In Texas, a fertilizer plan exploded. In Boston, businesses were destroyed in the Marathon bombings. In both cases, the rescue and recovery efforts extended over weeks, involving the herculean efforts of local, state and federal agencies. Disasters can be natural or man-made – be they terrorist attacks, operational errors, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards or floods.
America is no stranger to disasters. Efficient companies today enact business continuity and disaster recovery plans as an essential part of their operational planning. Most have periodic evacuation drills. However, how many of these companies explicitly address their temporary workers in these plans? With the rapidly growing use of contingent workers, it is time companies extended these plans to encompass their contingent workforce too.
On April 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a memorandum to regional administrators regarding the shared obligation of “host employers” and staffing agencies (i.e., employers of record) to protect temporary workers from workplace hazards. OSHA cited the recent increase in fatal injuries involving temporary workers.
If staffing agencies and “host employers” share responsibility for the well-being of temporary workers, then what steps should be taken, and by whom? We suggest the following:
- In establishing the contractual relationship, clearly define a joint safety program. Identify the responsibilities of each party. For example, in many agreements the staffing agency provides general safety training, while a representative from the host employer covers safety procedures regarding hazards specific to that work location or process. The staffing agency and/or Managed Services Provider are then responsible for ensuring ongoing compliance with the program.
- Ensure that the business continuity plan specifies the impact on contract workers. Will their assignments continue? Where will the work be conducted? What changes must occur?
- The safety officers of Managed Services Providers and/or staffing agencies should conduct a walk-through of each facility at the commencement of the relationship. Observations and discussions during the walk-through should serve as the basis for a site-specific contingent worker safety plan. During the walk-throughs, the safety officers should confirm that the individuals who will be supervising the temp workers have also completed any necessary safety training.
- For each job description, policies and procedures for site access, safety equipment provisioning, training, and more should be developed that takes into consideration the environment in which the individual will be working. Detailed safety manuals should specify policies and procedures for working near all potential safety hazards (e.g., chemicals, electricity, construction sites, or biohazards). These manuals should be readily available to all workers.
- Onboarding and off-boarding requirements should be based on these policies and procedures. Include any special permits or licenses that the worker must have. Be sure to consider how to confirm compliance with onboarding requirements as well as tracking of renewal dates for licenses and certifications.
- Ensure that every contract worker receives safety training prior to commencing work. Be sure that the training addresses actions to be taken for emergency and non-emergency safety procedures.
- Provide safety information wherever contract workers are most likely to see it. This may be in the cafeteria, the break room, and on their contractor portal. Make sure that it clearly states what to do in the case of an emergency. Provide the information in a language and vocabulary that the workers understand.
- If an incident occurs, the staffing agency or Managed Services Provider must have immediate, accurate information on all temp workers that are on assignment at that facility at that time. We suggest that this information be stored on the web to ensure accessibility. Information on workers who may be en route to the work site must also be immediately available, and a process must exist to rapidly inform them of an incident and direct them to avoid reporting to work.
- Establish protocols to notify all workers of the event and subsequent changes to plans with regard to work location etc.
- Establish and follow-procedures for investigation of all HSE incidents. Be sure that workers understand in advance the consequences of willfully violating HSE policies.
- Periodically conduct a gap analysis to ensure that the disaster preparedness leaves nothing left to be desired with your contingency plan.
Technology has become critical in preventing and rapidly responding to disasters. The use of mobile devices allows easier and faster reporting of hazards or incidents. Cloud services and remote data centers allow rapid transfer of operations to a new location. Response plans can be rapidly communicated to all workers via websites and social media. For contract workers, vendor management systems (VMS) can provide timely information on workers on assignment on each facility, and can ensure that all onboarding and training requirements have been met. Renewal dates of licenses and certifications can be tracked, reminders can be issued, and access to facilities and systems can be terminated for non-renewals. The most innovative VMS systems also offer fatigue prevention modules that model fatigue thresholds for ‘high risk’ worker classes, alert supervisors, and initiate corrective actions.
When it comes to workplace safety, John Donne said it best, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee…” The responsibility for a company’s safety, the safety of all workers and the protection of property, the community and the environment is shared by the host employer, all suppliers and business partners, and all workers – permanent and temporary.