Following mounting evidence that temporary laborers are injured at much higher rates than regular employees, federal regulators have just implemented several new measures to protect an estimated 2.5 million temporary workers in the U.S.
In December, the Center for Public Integrity and Chicago Public Media publicized the case of Carlos Centeno, a temporary worker who was severely burned in a Chicago factory in 2011 and died after three weeks in the hospital. OSHA records (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) examined by the Center indicated that Centeno’s supervisors refused to call 911 as his skin sloughed off his body and he yelled for help.
OSHA announced that it had sent a memo to its administrators “directing field inspectors to assess whether employers who use temporary workers are complying with their responsibilities under the law.”
“Inspectors will use a newly created code in their information system to denote when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations,” the agency said in a press release. “Additionally, they will assess whether temporary workers received required training in a language and vocabulary they could understand.”
Workers’ Compensation Attorneys and the Center for Public Integrity have pointed to recent research showing that temporary workers suffer workplace injuries at much higher rates than permanent employees. This is often the result of inadequate safety training or assumptions among some employers that temps are expendable. In 2012, for instance, researchers who reviewed 4,000 amputations at workplaces in Illinois discovered that 5 of the 10 employers with the worst safety track record were temporary staffing agencies.
The new OSHA memo, written by director Thomas Galassi, states that the agency has been contacted about a series of incidents of “temporary workers suffering fatal injuries during the first days on a job. In some cases, the employer failed to provide safety training or, if some instruction was given, it inadequately addressed the hazard, and this failure contributed to their death.”
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Centeno, a 50-year-old immigrant from Mexico, was connected to a temporary staffing agency at the time of his fatal accident. When supervisors declined to call 911, another worker ended up driving him to a clinic, creating a delay of at least 38 minutes. Centeno wasn’t moved to a hospital burn center until more than an hour after that. The lost time before receiving medical attention may have contributed to his death.
OSHA proposed that the host employer, Raani Corp., which manufactures personal-care and hygiene products, face criminally prosecution for the incident. The agency also recommended a $473,000 civil fine against Raani, which is currently in the appeal phase. Centeno’s family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit; court documents show that the company denies fault.
In 2011, Centeno was just one of 4,693 workers who suffered fatal, work-related injuries. Workplace fatalities were higher in 2011 than in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worker deaths in 2010 also rose over the previous year: 4,690 died in 2010, while 4,551 died in 2009.