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This article appeared in the March 2024 issue of Resource Recycling. Subscribe today for access to all print content.

Throughout the year, scrap processors see fluctuations in the amount of electronics and other waste materials coming from collections around their communities. Handling influxes may not be possible without the hiring of temporary agency workers. Temporary agency workers (hereafter “temporary workers”) are usually paid by a staffing company and assigned to work on the site of a “host employer” company. These workers can receive both short and long-term assignments. Companies across many industries hire temporary workers to meet fluctuating labor demands. Each year, over 14.5 million temporary workers are employed through staffing companies in the U.S. These include e-scrap recyclers, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), collection operations and litter patrols. Organizations that do recycling program outreach and education may also hire temporary workers.  


According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there have been numerous deaths and disabling injuries among temporary workers, some of which have occurred within their first days on the job. One example is the death of a 21-year-old temporary worker who was asked, during his first day on the job, to clean up some broken glass under a palletizer machine. A 2000-pound palletizer is a machine that stacks cases of goods or products onto a pallet. The palletizer was restarted while the temporary worker was cleaning underneath it, crushing him. The host employer had not trained temporary workers on lockout/tagout procedures to ensure equipment did not become energized while workers were performing cleaning, repair or maintenance activities.

Studies looking at workers’ compensation data show that temporary workers experience higher injury rates compared with non-temporary (or permanent) workers. This is especially true for traumatic injuries related to contact with objects and equipment.

Whether involving temporary or permanent workers, work-related injuries and illnesses are costly and can have devastating effects on workers and their families. They can negatively impact a company’s bottom line due to high injury costs and absenteeism rates, OSHA citations (which may or may not include a fine), production disruptions, poor product or service quality and negative media exposure. In the event of a temporary worker injury, OSHA could hold both the staffing company and host employer responsible for violations of workplace standards. In some cases, OSHA has fined the host employer more heavily than the staffing company for violations because it is the supervising employer. 


Several factors may contribute to higher injury rates among temporary workers, including:

  • Temporary workers are new to the job more often than permanent workers, which is a known risk factor for work-related injuries and illnesses because new workers are less familiar with job hazards and protections.
  • Temporary workers may hesitate to speak up about safety and health issues or concerns because they fear being fired or facing other negative repercussions, such as being perceived as a complainer.
  • Host employers may be reluctant to invest in safety and health protections for temporary workers, given they are not part of their permanent workforce and may not be on the job site for a long time. One study found that over 40% of temporary workers reported they had not received any safety and health training from their host employer or staffing company before starting their job, compared with 25% of permanent workers.
  • Temporary workers have two employers—the host employer and the staffing company. This “dual employment arrangement” may cause confusion as to which employer is responsible for different safety and health protections for temporary workers. There may also be communication breakdowns between staffing companies, host employers and temporary workers. For instance, staffing companies have voiced concerns over when a host employer changes a temporary worker’s job duties without first informing the staffing company. This practice raises safety issues, as it is important for the staffing company to ensure the worker has the relevant experience, training and personal protective equipment before they start doing the new tasks. 


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the U.S. federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. According to OSHA and NIOSH, staffing companies and host employers are both responsible for the safety and health of temporary workers. In 2013, OSHA launched its Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) “to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses among temporary workers.” The OSHA TWI provides guidance about the joint safety and health responsibilities of staffing companies and host employers. This includes bulletins on specific safety and health topics, such as hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens and hazardous energy (lockout/tagout). 

The guidance from the OSHA TWI is an important step toward protecting and promoting the safety and health of temporary workers. However, host employers may need more detailed information about what they can do to protect their temporary workforce. Toward this aim, NIOSH and partners developed “Protecting Temporary Workers: Best Practices for Host Employers,” a free resource that builds on the guidance issued by the OSHA TWI. It delivers an in-depth set of workplace safety and health best practices tailored specifically for host employers. The document can be used by host employers across industries and occupations, including the e-scrap industry, and provides important information on these topics: 

1. Evaluating and addressing workplace safety and health in a written contract;

2. Training temporary workers and their worksite 


3. Reporting, responding to and recording temporary worker injuries and illnesses.

The following is a high-level snapshot of the information within each of these three sections:


Before writing and signing a contract, host employers and staffing companies should evaluate all facets of safety and health related to each organization and the jobs temporary workers are hired to perform. As part of this process, host employers should (1) conduct a joint risk assessment with the staffing company; (2) provide the staffing company with requested safety data; (3) allow the staffing company to visit the worksite and conduct a walkthrough; and (4) ensure the staffing company is committed to its role in keeping temporary workers safe and healthy.

The contract between the host employers and staffing companies should specify the role of each party in protecting the safety and health of temporary workers. The contract should clearly document job details along with any safety and health hazards and protections. The contract should also include how both employers will communicate with each other and with temporary workers about workplace safety and health; the documentation responsibilities of both companies; and each company’s responsibilities to report, respond to and record temporary worker injuries. Providing detailed information about protections for temporary workers in the contract will encourage accountability by the staffing company and host employer for keeping their temporary workers safe and healthy. 


According to OSHA, in most cases, the host employer is responsible for providing site- and task-specific safety and health training, and the staffing company is responsible for providing general safety and health awareness training. Host employers should provide temporary workers with site- and task-specific safety and health training equivalent to that provided to their own employees performing the same or similar work. This training should be provided before a worker starts a new assignment or a new job or task on an existing assignment. The host employer should document that this training has occurred and have the trained workers complete a knowledge assessment to ensure they understand the key concepts. Host employers should also provide training to those employees supervising the temporary workers to ensure they understand the joint safety and health responsibilities of the host employer and the staffing company.


Effective injury and illness reporting, response and recordkeeping are vital to preventing future incidents. Host employers should encourage temporary workers to report work-related injuries and illnesses and inform the staffing company immediately when they do so. According to OSHA, in most cases, host employers are responsibile for recording temporary worker injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 Log. This is because they provide day-to-day supervision and control the means and manner of the work. 

Host employers and staffing companies should work together to conduct thorough investigations of temporary worker injuries, illnesses and close calls and include the affected workers in the process. The aim should be to determine the root cause of the incident, what immediate corrective actions are needed and opportunities to improve their respective injury and illness prevention programs.


“Protecting Temporary Workers: Best Practices for Host Employers” includes scenarios demonstrating how the best practices might be implemented and best practices checklists that can be printed or completed electronically. There is a complementary slide deck that staffing companies can use to educate their host employer clients about the best practices.

To protect and promote the safety, health and well-being of temporary workers in the e-scrap industry, host employers need to go beyond sheer compliance with OSHA laws and regulations. By integrating these best practices into their safety management systems, host employers can do their part to ensure a safe, healthy and productive workforce. This, in turn, may ultimately contribute to lower costs and an increased competitive advantage. In addition, following these recommendations can help host employers feel assured that they are doing what they can to help their temporary workers return home healthy and safe at the end of their shifts. 

Lauren Menger-Ogle, PhD, is a social scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Michael Foley, MS, is an economist at the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention Program within Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries. Diana Ceballos, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. Kirk Sander is chief of staff and vice president of safety and standards at the National Waste and Recycling Association.