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Taking a Strategic Lead on Safety

By Adam Stone

ASA and OSHA collaborate to protect the well-being of temporary workers and educate staffing clients.

Before a capacity crowd of staffing industry professionals in Washington, DC, the top officials for the American Staffing Association and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April signed a landmark agreement—one that made it official: ASA and OSHA have joined forces to develop and execute a strategic plan focused on protecting the health and safety of temporary workers in the U.S.

“Through this alliance with ASA, we will increase outreach to staffing firms and host employers and provide information and education that is vital to protecting temporary workers,” said David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. Michaels and ASA president and chief executive officer Richard Wahlquist signed the agreement. Several OSHA officials and several hundred staffing professionals attended the signing ceremony, which coincided with the annual ASA Staffing Law Conference.

The formal alliance between ASA and OSHA has two prevailing goals:

  • To reduce and prevent temporary workers’ exposure to safety and health hazards during assignments
  • To educate staffing companies, their clients, and temporary workers about temporary worker rights and employer responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act

Additionally, from a staffing industry perspective, the ASA-OSHA alliance also works toward educating federal officials about the often misunderstood relationship between staffing companies and their clients.

“The more OSHA understands the specifics of the relationships between staffing companies and client locations, the more OSHA compliance officers will understand who is responsible for what,” says Sharon Pancamo, area safety manager for Columbus, IN-based Elwood Staffing Services. “This aspect is critical to providing safe work environments for our employees,” she adds.

“The more OSHA understands the specifics of the relationships between staffing companies and client locations, the more OSHA compliance officers will understand who is responsible for what. This aspect is critical to providing safe work environments for our employees.”

—Sharon Pancamo, Elwood Staffing Services

Pancamo, who also serves as chairman of the ASA safety committee, is responsible for providing Elwood Staffing managers with OSHA outreach training, “which ensures that Elwood branches are knowledgeable enough to proactively change the client environment so it is safer for associates.” As part of the ASA safety committee, Pancamo and representatives of several ASA member companies have played an active role in engaging with OSHA officials and educating them about staffing company operations.

The ASA-OSHA alliance also gives ASA member staffing companies immediate and comprehensive access to any information, regulations, resources, and announcements that could affect their businesses.

Honing the Safety Message

Staffing professionals, particularly those who have mastered specific aspects of employment law as it pertains to the staffing business, are quite familiar with temporary worker safety issues and regulations. But when OSHA’s top official talks, American businesses listen.

“Host employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees,” says Michaels of OSHA. “Temporary staffing [firms] and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for the employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”

Building upon that message, ASA and OSHA have agreed to cooperatively work toward

  • Developing information on the nature of workplace hazards, including strategies for communicating such information to staffing firms, client companies, and temporary workers
  • Supporting information-sharing among OSHA personnel and industry safety and health professionals regarding temporary worker safety best practices through training programs, workshops, and seminars
  • Fulfilling commitments to present information through exhibitions and appearances at OSHA and ASA conferences, local meetings, and other events
  • Developing a joint work plan focused on protecting the health and safety of temporary workers, particularly by reducing and preventing exposure to safety and health hazards during temporary assignments

A number of specific joint projects already are under way, says La Tanya James-Rouse, ASA assistant general counsel. Among those is a project to develop a safety video directed to staffing clients so that they have a better understanding of safety best practices as well as their responsibilities under the law.

Educating the Industry and Clients

Angie Cannon, a risk manager for Boise, ID-based IES Custom Staffing, has a unique appreciation for the ASA-OSHA alliance.

Cannon recalls an accident that occurred many years ago involving a temporary employee who was working on assignment near a grain silo. The follow-up with government officials was difficult and especially confusing for the client. All staffing firms, regardless of size, can benefit from learning more about temporary worker safety strategies, Cannon says, and it can go a long way toward educating clients, too.

“Many staffing firms take employee safety very seriously and have robust safety programs to ensure their well-being,” says Stephen Dwyer, ASA general counsel. “Where there may be room for improvement is with clients who perhaps out of ignorance do not have the same level of concern with respect to temporary worker safety as they do for their own internal workers’ safety.”

As OSHA and the staffing industry come to align their interests, it should enable staffing
firms to educate their clients and ultimately enter into contracts that are both fair to all parties and also compliant with OSHA expectations, Dwyer adds.

By working hand in hand with regulatory authorities, the staffing industry also may have a new avenue through which to elevate its standing in the public eye. This enhanced credibility would work to drive better relationships with both clients and temporary workers.

“Sometimes people have a misperception of temporary staffing. They may think we aren’t as concerned about putting people in safe jobs. But that isn’t true at all,” says Lesa Francis, CSP, president and chief executive officer of Cincinnati-based Staffmark. “We are all very focused on putting people in safe environments.”

More than 70% of Staffmark’s business is in the light industrial sector, so Francis has a keen appreciation for the safety aspect of client relationships. Not only must a staffing company ensure the safety of the temporary workers it places, it also has a responsibility to ensure its clients get their safety programs right.

“There is also an economic motivation,” adds Francis, who also serves as an officer on the ASA board of directors. “If we put people in an unsafe environment and they get hurt, that is going to drive up our costs. So we want exactly what OSHA wants—that every site is compliant and safe, that everyone is going to go to work healthy and leave the job healthy.”

Dwyer agrees: “It’s an issue of paramount concern because temporary workers are a staffing firm’s most important asset. Any number of injuries is too many.”

New ASA Video Focuses on Worker Safety

ASA has produced a new video that succinctly addresses the topic of temporary worker safety. Use the video to spark conversations at your staffing firm. Share the video with your clients. Post it to your company’s social media sites to promote safety messages. View the three-minute video below or on the Safety Matters page.

Download ASA Safety Best Practices

Remember that ASA member staffing companies have access to valuable safety best practices documents online. “Employee Safety Best Practices and Operating Information” addresses best practices in staffing firms’ general operations and management of workplace incidents. The best practices include interactions between internal and temporary employees as well as clients, secondary suppliers, vendor management systems providers, and managed service providers.

Additional safety best practices are available for companies operating in industrial, nurse, office–clerical, professional–managerial, and technical–information technology staffing. Go to the Safety Matters page.

Allying With the Feds

“Many staffing firms take employee safety very seriously and have robust safety programs to ensure their well-being. Where there may be room for improvement is with clients who perhaps out of ignorance do not have the same level of concern with respect to temporary worker safety as they do for their own internal workers’ safety.”

—Stephen Dwyer, ASA general counsel

Charged with ensuring the health and safety of virtually every American industry, OSHA has a profound stake in forging a close association with ASA and its members.

Staffing companies send workers into almost every commercial setting imaginable, inherently creating touch points to nearly every industry and sector OSHA has on its watch list.

OSHA assistant secretary Michaels recently laid out the case in a speech to the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. He cited a number of tragic incidents to help demonstrate the need for OSHA to have closer ties to the staffing industry.

“Worker wellness and safety have long been a top priority of ASA and its member companies,” says ASA’s Wahlquist. He agrees that strategic ties with OSHA should work toward increased training and enhance outreach and communication among staffing firms and their clients.

Dwyer notes that OSHA’s interest in temporary worker safety and its alliance with ASA gives the staffing industry an essential voice at the federal level. “ASA members now will have easy access to resources that they can share with clients, to help educate them—and ensure that clients are meeting their responsibilities,” Dwyer explains. “And those resources will come from a government agency, so they carry some weight. There is now an authoritative party setting forth these responsibilities, and that can only help staffing firms in conducting their business.”

Cannon at IES Custom Staffing agrees, but offers a real-world staffing firm perspective as well.

“You have a lot of clients who are scared to death of OSHA,” Cannon says. “You just drop OSHA’s name and clients will say okay to whatever you want. The point here is not to intimidate but to motivate all players to get together on the same page. Rather than working against each other, now we can solidify this as a partnership between us and the client—and, ultimately, OSHA.”

Positioning for Ongoing Success

OSHA Website Targets Temporary Worker Safety

Visit OSHA’s “Protecting Temporary Workers” website features articles and resources that focus on the joint responsibility of staffing firms and clients to maintain safe work environments for temporary workers.

Industry professionals have praised ASA for forging the kind of high-level ties with OSHA that no one staffing company could achieve on its own. The association’s leadership also continues to play a critical role in helping OSHA understand the industry.

For example, OSHA regulations show that the party who supervises day-to-day work is responsible for site-specific training and the availability of safety equipment. “That is an essential responsibility of the client,” Dwyer notes. “By including that in the contract it reminds and maybe even informs the client of that responsibility. The contract ideally should accurately reflect each party’s responsibility under the law.”

While this has always been true, it often has fallen to the staffing firm to spell out the situation. Absent of any outside pressure, clients have made safety a subject of negotiations. With closer ties to OSHA, staffing firms should be better equipped to forge contracts that are appropriate within the law.

Looking toward the future, ASA leaders and OSHA executives alike say they foresee an evolving relationship, one in which every player grows in knowledge and understanding, making for a safer workplace and a better business environment for all.

This material is not intended, and should not relied on, as legal advice. Please consult with your own counsel about the legal matters discussed here.

Adam Stone, a freelance writer based in Annapolis, MD, is a regular contributor to Staffing Success. Send feedback on this article to Follow ASA on Twitter @StaffingTweets.

<span class="publication-name"><em>Staffing Success</em></span> <span class="publication-separator">-</span> <span class="publication-issue">November-December 2014</span>
Originally Published In

Staffing Success - November-December 2014

It is one of the most significant partnerships in the staffing industry’s recent history. This year, the top officials for ASA and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration signed a landmark agreement—marking the start of a collaborative relationship focused on protecting the health and safety of temporary workers in the U.S.

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