October 2014

Temporary employees, permanent safety

Staffing agency promotes safety responsibility

By Melanie Mesaros

In Oregon, the heyday for temporary employment was the late 1990s, as the tech industry boomed and some 42,000 workers helped keep pace with demand. According to the Oregon Employment Department, the numbers today have not yet returned to that peak, but 742 temporary help firms employed 28,952 workers in 2011 – a number that grew to 31,151 workers by March 2014.

Despite some negative attention around safety deficiencies for temporary workers nationwide, John Swartos, regional safety manager at Aerotek, said it's not how his company does business. He said Aerotek, which places workers in manufacturing, commercial construction, and software engineering industries, views safety as a core value. In fact, each week, Aerotek turns down opportunities to work with businesses with a poor safety record and often asks to review OSHA logs before placing workers.

"Some companies say please, and they open up their books and show us everything," he said. "Others are hesitant and that can be a litmus test. I also ask, 'Is this a place that you would want to let your mom, dad, or brother work for?'" said Swartos.

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With larger clients, where Aerotek may have 50 or more of its temporary workers on site, the company keeps a regular presence with an Aerotek manager "embedded" onsite. Dave Pearson, Aerotek's director of business operations in Portland, said that allows for a stronger partnership.

Tools for employing temporary workers

Federal OSHA recently published recommended practices for protecting temporary workers:

Oregon OSHA's fact sheet on who is responsible for providing PPE:

Oregon OSHA's approach to temporary and host employer responsibilities:

"We expect our people to be treated the same way as an internal employee – that means they receive the same training and the same personal protective equipment. It's written into our service agreement."

Rasha Abdelmalak joined the workforce a couple years ago after having children. Aerotek put her through aptitude tests and basic safety training before being placed at a Portland-area manufacturer (she had two years of previous manufacturing experience). Once she arrived at the job, she spent a week learning the different processes and was matched up with a long-time employee at the host site who provided more specific training.

"He showed me how to load the machine and unload it, and how to clean it," said Abdelmalak.

Should an injury occur, Swartos said there is an expectation that it's reported immediately.

"Every injury report is an opportunity for me to act as a consultant and assist with safety issues," he said.

In one case, Swartos said a host employer was seeing injuries to both its temporary workforce and permanent employees.

"They began to grow and realized they hadn't done a job hazard analysis (JHA)," Swartos said. "I observed their production line and helped them develop JHAs and figure out what PPE was needed. While the client didn't have a person experienced enough to do this, I was able to create the JHA and teach them how to replicate it across each of their product lines."

Aerotek also encourages its staff to join safety committees and checks in regularly with the temps to find out if they are having a good experience, said Pearson.

"If the host employer asks them to do something that they haven't been trained on or aren't experienced in, they have the right to say no," he said.  ▉


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