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Some temporary workers much more likely to get hurt on the job — new Washington safety requirements aim to change that

A first-of-its-kind law, requested by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this week, will help change that by protecting workers, preventing injuries, and possibly saving lives.

SHB 1206, which takes effect July 25, 2021, focuses on identifying workplace hazards for certain temporary workers, making sure they know about the potential hazards, and ensuring they receive the right training to protect themselves.

The research on this is startling. These temporary workers are getting hurt at a much higher rate than other workers in our state,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “Every worker, temporary or permanent, should know about the hazards of their job and how to stay safe. We should expect no less. This law will make a real difference.”

New protections for temporary workers in construction and manufacturing

The new law focuses on protections specifically for construction and manufacturing workers who get jobs through temporary staffing agencies.

Under the law, employers must document the job hazards these temporary workers may face, inform the staffing agencies about those hazards, and work with staffing agencies to make sure that workers are informed and trained.

Temp Worker Justice is the national nonprofit organization for temporary workers. The organization’s Director Dave DeSario says, “This law is a major achievement and provides a blueprint for the rest of the country to follow. These protections are the strongest in the nation for workers hired by temporary staffing agencies for highly hazardous jobs in construction and manufacturing. The new requirements will prevent hundreds of injuries.”

Research points to higher risk for temporary workers

Labor & Industries proposed the legislation after the agency’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention program (SHARP) found that temporary workers are much more likely to get hurt on the job. That’s especially true in construction and manufacturing.

Unfortunately, temporary workers from staffing agencies are also much less likely to get training to recognize and protect themselves from job hazards. It’s a dangerous combination for these workers.

The SHARP research, funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), found that temporary workers often experience unexpected changes to their assigned work, but many are afraid to say no, regardless of the hazard.

It’s not uncommon for these workers to get new assignments that they’re not prepared or trained for,” said SHARP lead researcher Michael Foley. “On top of that, temporary workers say they’re reluctant to refuse new tasks even if they’re concerned, because they might lose their job and their pay.”

The new law requires the employer to take specific steps when the temporary worker’s job or work location changes and they may face new workplace hazards. In those cases, the staffing agency and the employee must be informed of the new hazards. In addition, employers must provide the worker with updated training and personal protective equipment if needed. Under the law, employees can refuse the new task if they haven’t been appropriately trained.

The American Staffing Association (ASA) also helped inform the work on the new requirements. The organization represents numerous staffing agencies nationwide. L&I expects to work closely with the ASA as the new law is put into practice.

“Washington is committed to being a national leader in this work; these new requirements mean more temporary workers will be safe on the job,” said Sacks.

This news release was provided by the Washington Department of Labor & Industries

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