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When you say ‘temp worker’, many people picture a receptionist filling in while a company’s employee is on vacation or out sick. Back in the day that was what the temp industry looked like. (I remember working as a temp in an office during summer vacations in college.) But today temporary workers placed by staffing agencies work in many more places than just office settings, and may even work on long-term assignments for the same company.

Temp Workers imageWhile temporary work isn’t for everyone, for many it can be a useful option. Temporary work can provide a flexible work schedule, extra income during the holiday season, and employment when in-between jobs. And a temporary assignment could lead to a permanent job with the company where you are placed.

In Massachusetts, temporary workers – now more commonly referred to as “staffing employees”, make up about 2% of the workforce. These 65,000 workers can be found working in health care, restaurants, manufacturing, construction, and yes, even offices. A challenge in temporary work is that individuals are working in unfamiliar settings, and there is some data showing that temporary workers have high rates of injury.

Often temporary workers are placed in hazardous jobs and don’t always receive enough information or training to perform the job safely. DPH’s Massachusetts Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (MA FACE) project identified 17 fatalities of temporary workers, including three deaths of workers under age 24, from 1993 through 2015.  MA FACE investigated several of these deaths to identify risk factors and released reports (fall from ladder, cleaning machinery) with recommendations on how to prevent similar incidents in the future. MA FACE also developed a fact sheet highlighting lack of safety training as a contributing factor in the temporary worker deaths and that staffing agencies and host employers have a shared responsibility to keep workers safe.

In 2010, the DPH Young Workers Project began looking at work-related injuries to young adults (18-24 years old) and discovered that temp workers in this age group were injured at a much higher rate than other workers. As a result, this Spring DPH started conducting interviews with young adult temp workers who are injured at work to learn more about factors contributing to these injuries and the impact of these injuries on their lives. This data will help us develop prevention strategies to keep young workers safe.

“I was working on the palletizer machine packaging goods when a bunch of boxes fell off and jammed the machine. A co-worker was operating the buttons; I yelled at him three times to hit the emergency shut off. When he finally turned it off, my hand was on a box. When I went to take the box off the rollers and bring it towards me, my whole right hand and left pinky got taken in by the rollers. My hands were stuck for 10 minutes while my co-workers stood around because they didn’t know what to do. Finally a maintenance guy used a crow bar to pry my hands out.“ – 22 year old machine operator

In 2012, Massachusetts enacted the Temporary Workers Right to Know Law, which requires that staffing agencies conducting business in Massachusetts register with the Department of Labor Standards. This law requires that staffing agencies provide temporary workers with a ‘job order’ containing information about the job placement such as name of employer, job description, pay information, and dates of employment. In addition, the law prohibits staffing agencies from charging workers certain fees and prohibits activities such as sending you to a job assignment to perform work that is illegal. Information about the Law is available for staffing agencies and temporary workers.

As we mark National Staffing Employee Week (Sept 19-25) this week, let’s remember to keep all of Massachusetts workers safe — including temporary workers.

Written By:

Project Coordinator in the Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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