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Will we all be temporary workers one day?

Temporary workers face a greater risk of death and injury according to an investigation by ProPublica, that reviewed millions of workers' compensation claims made in five states. The study found that workers in some states faced up to a 72 percent greater chance of being injured on the job.

What is troubling is that temporary workers are becoming a more significant element of the work force, and that for blue-collar temporary workers, the risks are increased because they are often hired to perform dirty, hazardous or dangerous work. Companies use temporary workers to protect skilled full-time employees and to avoid workers' compensation expenses associated with temporary workers.

The examination of the workers' compensation claims was made more difficult by the fact that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not track temporary workers and some states, like New Jersey, treat the records as confidential and refused to release them to investigators.

Other problems stem from the subtle and not so subtle pressure by many companies that inhibits temporary workers from filing workers' compensation claims. Many workers relate how they worked injured to avoid being branded with a "Do Not Return" classification on their work documents, which would effectively end their employment with the agency.

Some temporary workers are injured or die on the first day, due to a lack of safety training and lack of experience with the work. Companies often dispute responsibility for training, with the host company and the temporary agencies claiming the other one is responsible.

Since the recession, the trend for using temporary workers has increased, and perhaps one California company is a sign of things to come. It claimed it was not responsible for two worker injuries because it had no employees; it leased them all. 

Source: Pacific-Standard, "Temporary Work, Lasting Harm," Michael Grabell, Olga Pierce & Jeff Larson, Feb. 3, 2014

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