The article published by ProPublica, "Temporary Work, Lasting Harm," will raise the ire of the common person, and if its premise is correct then we have a much bigger problem than our little world of workers' compensation is used to dealing with.
Highlighting several instances of temporary worker death, the article points to a significant failing of the American worker protection system in the employment of temporary workers - safety.
Remember why workers' compensation in the US came about in the first place?
The historical underpinnings of work comp in this country was the Industrial Revolution taking agrarian-based workers out of their element, putting them into factories with little to no training or other safety systems in place, and killing and maiming them in the relentless pursuit of corporate profits.
It appears this is happening again.
I won't restate the statistics or the anecdotes in the ProPublica article - you can read that yourself.
That's bad enough - the failure of Big Business to shirk responsibilities to the work force because they are not THEIR employees - but what is really happening is a dramatic shift in the way the work force is hired and used.
As Dr. Christian put it:
"Most of our country’s protective safety legislation (OHSA, et al) puts the burden for safety on the EMPLOYER with the ASSUMPTION that the employer controls the physical workplace and what goes on it – the actual risks. The rise of the temporary workforce makes those assumptions wrong.
"This brings up an even more fundamental and unsettling idea: the concept of the EMPLOYER or FIRM is rapidly becoming obsolete. Firms, whether they offer TV repair or legal services, have historically been a physical location to which customers funnel their purchase orders! And then a physical location from which assignments are distributed to the people who do the actual work and collect their pay. The Internet and virtual commerce allow buyers to find providers directly, assign and deliver work, and exchange money – thus "dis-intermediating" the employer entirely. In this virtual world, employers look like unnecessary middlemen. As employers disappear completely in this decentralized world of the future, WHO will become responsible for protecting INNOCENT and IGNORANT workers? When workers don’t think to SEARCH for information about how to be safe because they don’t know what they don’t know -- HOW can those protections be delivered?"
I know we have case law and statutes that define employee, special employer and other sorts of designations. We have trust systems in place for employers that fail to secure the payment of compensation.
But we don't have in place systems for ensuring safe work places for employees that are foisted into work situations for which they will provide service temporarily.
In one of the vignettes cited by the ProPublica story, the bottling factory where a temporary worker died had been cited numerous times for safety violations but apparently those citations were not a sufficient deterrent - many of the cited anomalies remained.
A temporary worker would not know about these anomalies, nor about the citations, unless there was training and someone told him or her about them.
In the ProPublica example, none of that occurred and the temporary worker was killed on the first day of his first job in his life...
I searched the WorkCompCentral News archives for case examples of temporary worker safety violations and was surprised by how few cases of enforcement action for these cases there were.
Last July OSHA issued 14 citations, with fines totaling $60,300, to Raani Corp. in Bedford Park, Ill., for alleged safety and health violations, including allegedly failing to protect workers from improperly guarded power saws and hazardous chemicals. Over half of the plant's 150 workers are temporary employees.
In December 2011, a worker died from chemical burns sustained at the plant, OSHA reported.
OSHA issued 26 citations, with fines totaling $170,000, to AFL Quality, Inc., doing business as AFL Web Printing, for alleged safety and health violations at its Voorhees facility in 2011. The story doesn't say how many of the company's 260 employees are temporary, but one of the citations was for failure to record the injury of a temporary worker.
In 2009 OSHA issued three citations with fines totaling $50,850 to VersaCold for alleged workplace safety and health violations at its former Nazareth, PA facility. An "other-than-serious" citation was for the alleged failure to record lost-time injuries for temporary workers.
In total when combining "temporary" with "safety" and "citation" in the search terms in the WorkompCentral database only 18 "hits" come up, and some of those stories contain the word "temporary" only in the context of some other issue, such as a temporary barricade, rather than a temp employee.
Remove the term "temporary" from the search and the volume of safety violation stories balloons to nearly 1,200.
Dr. Christian said it best in summarizing this trend - "Most of our country’s protective safety legislation (OHSA, etc.) puts the burden for safety on the EMPLOYER with the ASSUMPTION that the employer controls the physical workplace and what goes on it – the actual risks. The rise of the temporary workforce makes those assumptions wrong."
I think Dr. Christian is right. I've long argued that the Internet is not just a technological revolution, but a social revolution on a scale of the Great Ages of Mankind. I call this current "age" the Information Age.
Great Ages turn previous social and cultural presumptions upside down because of the huge shift in how work gets done. We are experiencing this.
The Information Age changes not only how we think, what we think, and how much we think, but how we get things done - the allocation of resources changes dramatically, and so must the attention of our resource protection systems.