New research shows temporary agency workers falling through cracks when it comes to health and safety | National Union of Public and General Employees

New research shows temporary agency workers falling through cracks when it comes to health and safety

"The three-way worker-agency-client employment relationship poses challenges to the effectiveness of agency injury prevention initiatives." - Institute for Work and Health

logo for the Institute for Work and HealthToronto (15 Aug. 2012) - According to a new study published by the Institute for Work and Health, temporary agency workers are more vulnerable to workplace injuries than regular employees due in large part to problems with the structure of their employment relationships.

“Our main finding was that low-wage temp agency workers are less well protected because of the complex working relationship in which they find themselves,” says scientist Dr. Ellen MacEachen who conducted, with her team, the research into job safety and return to work in temporary work agencies.

Contracted by employment agencies, these workers find themselves with two employers: the agency itself, and the "client employer." Despite both employers have a legal responsibility under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, it is the agency which is actually considered responsible under the province's worker compensation legislation. This becomes a problem when the agency has little control, authority and even day-to-day knowledge of the work sites to which employees are being sent. The Institute also suggests that this disconnection also "weakens the incentive for client employers to protect these workers."

“This is not about bad apples,” MacEachen adds. “It’s about a structural weakness in the regulatory system that leaves temp agency workers without the same protection as regular workers.”

MacEachen proposes three key changes:

  • experience rating prevention incentives should be applied to client employers;
  • the requirement to set up joint health and safety committees should be applied to temp agencies; and
  • workplaces that regularly hire large numbers of temp agency workers should be subject to proactive inspections by health and safety officers.

The report's findings suggest that a core problem to health and safety management is that, as the ‘employer’ of temporary workers, agencies cannot control clients' worksites and have only limited knowledge of them. The three-way worker-agency-client employment relationship poses challenges to the effectiveness of agency injury prevention initiatives.

The client employers are not held responsible under legislation for injuries to agency workers so they have little incentive to improve conditions. The Institute findings suggest that temp agencies are ineffective at trying to prevent workplace injuries because they are not on site daily, have no control over equipment and these workers are often hesitant to report problems or may be unfamiliar with governing OHS legislation.

MacEachen says,“Our research identifies ways that legislation and policies need to catch up with the reality of today’s work conditions.”

More information:

The Institute for Work and Health: The management of OHS and return-to-work issues in temporary work agencies

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