Labour Research October 2012

Health & Safety Matters

Injuries to temp staff

Agency workers are more vulnerable to suffering workplace injuries than regular employees, according to a new study by Canada’s Institute for Work and Health (IWH).

The IWH put this down largely to the difficulties with the structure of agency workers’ employment relationship. It cited the particular difficulty an agency has in monitoring and controlling workplace risks, the workers’ unfamiliarity with the end-user company’s practices, and the lower sense of responsibility end-user companies may feel towards agency workers.

On this latter point, there was evidence that some companies may be deliberately using agency workers to do tougher or more hazardous work.

The owner of a large temp agency — referred to only as Vince — agreed. He claimed to know of a client who “kept his health and safety record up high because he outsourced to [agency workers] all the … jobs that required any type of dangerous work”.

The IWH researchers made a number of recommendations to tackle this problem. The researchers suggest that joint health and safety committees (involving agencies, the end-user company and agency workers) should be set up.

Other recommendations included one that end-user companies, which regularly hire substantial numbers of agency workers, should be subject to proactive inspections by health and safety inspectors.

However, given the coalition government’s mantra of cutting red tape and their attacks on the health and safety inspection regime, this seems rather over-optimistic at the moment.