(“Originally published on SIA Staffing Stream, August 26, 2013.”)
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.
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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:
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.
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