OSHA Increasingly Holding [ Staffing ] Companies Liable For Safety Violations

workplace safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is well known for clamping down on employers who violate workplace health and safety standards. As the federal agency charged with promoting workplace safety standards, OSHA has been known to impose steep penalties on violators.

For a long time, OSHA has been placing primary liability for health and safety violations on host companies. As such, even when temporary workers were onsite, it was host companies who were cited with violations and penalized (often fined). The staffing companies which supplied the temps were let off the hook.

Over the last few years, the OSHA’s approach towards staffing companies has been slowly changing. The agency is increasingly holding staffing companies liable for safety violations committed at their clients’ premises. As such, when violations occur, any penalties are imposed on both the staffing companies and their hosts. A few staffing companies have already been on the receiving end of OSHA’s new approach.

A case in point is the August 2015 citation which was brought against Rock Wool Manufacturing Co. – a company head-quartered in Leeds, Alabama. The citation was brought over violations in Rock Wool’s Huston-based plant. OSHA alleged that Rock Wool exposed employees to stuck-by and amputation hazards, and fined it $64,350.

The OSHA then turned its attention to C & C Personnel LLC – a staffing company which supplied Rock Wool with 53 employees every day. It accused the agency of failing to establish an energy control program to disable potentially hazardous machinery and for not implementing a written respiratory program. It slapped the company with a $21,600 fine.

Chazmat training & C Personnel isn’t the only staffing company to face the wrath of the OSHA. In July 2015, On Target Staffing, a New Jersey staffing company was also slapped with OSHA citations. The company was supplying Sterling Seating Inc. – a New Jersey furniture manufacturer with temporary workers.

When the OSHA came calling, it served Sterling Seating with 42 citations for health and safety lapses. Among others, the company was cited for exposing workers to chemical, electrical, amputation, struck-by, fire, methylene chloride and exit hazards. For these, the company was fined $176,330.

On Target Staffing wasn’t spared either. The agency cited it for failing to prepare a written hazard communication program, not providing hazard training and failing to produce documentation of their hazard assessments. It was fined $19,800.

These two aren’t the only staffing companies to be held liable for health and safety violations. Since June 2014, at least 10 staffing companies have received OSHA citations. Most have received fines ranging from $6,000 to $64,350.

The writing on the wall is clear:

the writing on the wallStaffing companies can no longer ignore health and safety violations committed by their clients.

OSHA’s increasing citation of staffing companies isn’t random or haphazard. It is part of an approach outlined in a memorandum which was sent to all OSHA Regional Representatives on July 15th, 2014. The memo outlined new measures to strengthen the Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) – an initiative launched in 2013 to protect temporary workers from work-related injuries and illnesses.

The memo stated that, whenever temporary workers are employed, OSHA will consider the host company and staffing company as “joint employers”. As joint employers, both companies will “have responsibilities for protecting the safety and health of the temporary worker under the OSHA Act”, stated the memo. (https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers/Policy_Background_on_the_Temporary_Worker_Initiative.html)

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act is the federal law which governs health and safety for both federal and private workers. Responsibility for protecting temporary workers under the Act means that staffing companies are also liable for violations under the Act. The OSHA is certainly revving up efforts to ensure that staffing companies fulfill their obligations.

There are those who question the legal idea behind OSHA’s concept of “joint employers”. They argue that the concept is legally murky, with no clear dividing lines for the roles of the respective employers. Matthew Deffebach, an employment lawyer with Haynes Boone is one such a person.

“It’s hard to know exactly where one company’s responsibilities end and another’s begins”, he told the Houston Chronicle. “For example, who is supposed to give the safety speech at the “tailgate meeting” that starts each day? The host employer? The staffing firm? Or both?” he asked

Mr. Deffebach also questioned the legal rationale of limiting the responsibilities of “joint employers” to health and safety. Why doesn’t it extend to remuneration and benefits, for instance? (http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/columnists/sixel/article/Staffing-companies-facing-more-liability-for-6466674.php)

These are of course valid questions for which there are no clear-cut answers. What is clear-cut though is the OSHA’s growing determination to hold staffing companies liable for the health and safety of their temporary workers. To be on the safe side, staffing companies need to take note.

This post was written by Brett McIntyre, at Crimcheck.