As labour shortages, high turnover rates, and seasonal requirements require more Ontario businesses to rely on workers from temporary help agencies, confusion exists about who's responsible for the health and safety of these workers, says WSPS Consultant John VanLenthe. Is it the client employer or the temporary help agency?
"It's both," says John. "They share responsibility as 'employers' under the Occupational Health and Safety Act."
Just how well temporary workers are being protected is the subject of an upcoming inspection initiative. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) inspectors will be visiting workplaces from June 29 to August 31.
Temporary workers are increasingly drawn from two vulnerable groups: new and young workers, and foreign workers, says John. Their risk of injury is higher than more experienced workers due to unfamiliarity with workplace hazards, an unwillingness to speak up for fear of looking ‘stupid' or losing their job, and language barriers.
Keeping these workers safe requires clear communications between the agency and the employer about expectations, and active participation to ensure workers understand their roles and responsibilities, and have adequate knowledge and training to do their job. "You can't just make assumptions."
Prepare your workplace with these seven best practices.
- Conduct a hazard assessment or job task hazard analysis to identify hazards the temporary worker(s) will face, the training and/or qualifications needed, and requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Provide this information to the agency, which will relay it to the worker and provide general training on worker rights and policies and procedures, including reporting, and other specified training. Determine whether the agency or your workplace will provide mandatory health and safety awareness training.
- Validate the workers' knowledge, training and skills. This is critical for compliance, says John. "If a worker produces a lift truck operator training certificate, for instance, it doesn't necessarily mean they are qualified. Assess their skills and knowledge by asking questions about their training and/or having them drive the lift truck in a safe location." If you find a temporary worker lacks knowledge, training or skills in any area, bring them up to speed before they begin work.
- Provide orientation and job-specific training. Include in your orientation training health and safety policies, workplace hazards, emergency procedures, hazard and incident reporting, violence and harassment, and joint health and safety committee contacts. Focus job-specific training on the job's hazards, safe work procedures, and use of PPE. Provide supplementary training as required. For example, if the worker is expected to handle chemicals, validate their WHMIS training and then provide job-specific training on safe handling, use and storage of each chemical. For foreign workers whose first language is not English, use translation software, bring in an interpreter or enlist another employee who speaks the same language to train and validate.
- Confirm understanding. "Use the show, tell, check and test method," suggests John. Describe and demonstrate what needs to be done, then have the temporary worker do the same. "This method works for workers regardless of what their first language is," says John.
- Actively supervise the temporary workers. "New workers need to be monitored by a supervisor who provides constructive feedback on what they are doing well and what needs to be improved."
- Communicate with other workers. The possibility of violence and harassment directed against foreign workers is one aspect of health and safety you cannot ignore. Remind all workers of your violence and harassment policies and reporting procedures.
How WSPS can help
Our consultants can help support compliance by carrying out a workplace hazard assessment or a detailed job task hazard analysis to identify hazards faced by temporary workers. Find out more by emailing or speaking with our on-duty consultant.
- Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control (3-hour eCourse)
Guides and checklists
- New and Young Worker - Safety Tool Kit: A Guide for Employers
- Employee Orientation and Training Checklist
- WSPS Workplace Violence and Harassment Toolbox
- FAQ: PPE Considerations