Permanent solutions for temporary problems

Features - Safety Focus | Hiring

Temporary workers have become a major part of the waste and recycling landscape, putting a new emphasis on how these employees are trained.

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April 9, 2019

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Low unemployment and high demand have led to a hiring crunch in recent years for waste and recycling companies. To solve this personnel shortage, many operators have begun to rely on the aid of temp workers to fill industry jobs.

While the influx of temp workers has helped companies meet their staffing needs, it has also resulted in the need for greater training oversight. Often, these workers are onboarded by inexperienced agencies or negligent host companies without being taught the intricacies of the job and the relevant safety protocols expected. On-the-job injuries are too often the result.

According to Brian Haney, vice president of safety and compliance at Phoenix-based Leadpoint, waste companies that don’t fully vet the workers and temp agencies they work with run the risk of bringing in inexperienced staff that can put a business in jeopardy.

“In my experience, the use of temporary workers can compromise safety,” Haney says. “The biggest reasons are that turnover can be high and temp workers are seldom fully integrated into the site safety program. It’s likely that they are working in a [waste business] for the first time. As we know, there are plenty of hazards in [a waste or] material recovery facility environment. For a new temp worker unfamiliar with the safety rules, they can be in immediate danger. They may have received very limited training on site-specific safety procedures and may not even know who their boss is. In addition, the temporary staffing agency may have limited knowledge of our industry.”

Susan Eppes, president of Houston-based safety and health consulting firm EST Solutions, says that while temp agencies can help companies fulfill their employment needs, they don’t absolve waste and recycling businesses from their oversight responsibilities.

“We have employers in the industry who think they can hire people through a staffing agency and then their responsibilities from a safety standpoint are gone,” Eppes says. “They think the agency is going to handle all the training and provide all the personal protection equipment (PPE) and they’ll be off the hook. That’s where safety can become compromised.”

Although there are some companies, like Leadpoint, that specialize in MRF labor and operational support that prioritizes safety training before the onboarding process, it is still incumbent on the hiring company to familiarize staff with its own specific safety protocols.

Haney says companies should train temp workers the same as they would with other hires, including lessons that cover appropriate dress, PPE, lockout and tag-out programs, fall protection and avoiding dangerous interactions with mobile equipment.

“Temp workers should have the same training as their full-time counterparts in a MRF,” Haney says. “The temp staffing provider and the MRF operator share the responsibility of training temp workers, and together, they must ensure that training is completed before they start work.”

Beyond receiving instruction on safety protocols, temp workers should be brought into the fold and made to feel like part of the team. This includes getting acquainted with fellow coworkers and management.

I think it’s real important for people to think about how these new hires are not familiar with the hazards of our workplace. And that’s what we owe them. We have to teach them site-specific things.” -Susan Eppes, president of EST Solutions

According to Eppes, temporary workers are often rushed into their new positions without getting to know their colleagues. This can result in miscommunications that compromise safety. It can also create an outsider mentality that prevents temp workers from speaking up when seeing dangerous behavior.

While initial training lays the foundation for new employees, Eppes says safety instruction needs to be ongoing to become habit. This training should include operational-specific instruction that deals with the requirements of each job.

For instance, Eppes says that most temp workers won’t have experience riding on the back of a waste vehicle, moving 2,000-pound bales or working with forklifts and other waste equipment. Training new hires to handle these challenges can help eliminate many accidents that stem from throwing workers into unfamiliar situations.

“I think it’s real important for people to think about how these new hires are not familiar with the hazards of our workplace,” Eppes says. “And that’s what we owe them. We have to teach them the site-specific things.”

Once workers receive training, Haney says it is incumbent on the employer to follow through on this instruction to verify it has been understood and retained.

“These workers have families who are depending on them just like your own employees do and deserve your best effort to keep them safe,” Haney says. “Make sure they are trained and understand that training. ‘Checking the box’ only goes so far. You need to be sure that they know the safety rules for your operation and why those rules exist.”

Ensuring compliance

Haney says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Temp Worker Initiative (TWI) Bulletin 4 addresses training requirements that staffing agencies and host employers need to follow when hiring.

According to OSHA, “Both host employers and staffing agencies have roles in complying with workplace health and safety requirements, and they share responsibility for ensuring worker safety and health.

“A key concept is that each employer should consider the hazards it is in a position to prevent and correct ... to comply with OSHA standards. For example: Staffing agencies might provide general safety and health training, and host employers provide specific training tailored to the particular workplace equipment/hazards.”

OSHA offers the following guidelines for employers and staffing agencies:

  • Communication between the agency and the host is key to ensure that the necessary protections are provided.
  • Staffing agencies have a duty to inquire into the conditions of their workers’ assigned workplaces. They must ensure that they are sending workers to a safe workplace.
  • Ignorance of hazards is not an excuse.
  • Staffing agencies need not become experts on specific workplace hazards, but they should determine what conditions exist at their client (host) agencies, what hazards may be encountered and how best to ensure protection for the temporary workers.
  • The staffing agency has the duty to inquire and verify that the host has fulfilled its responsibilities for a safe workplace.
  • Host employers must treat temporary workers like any other workers in terms of training and safety and health protections.

Eppes says that this last point is especially important for facilitating employee compliance.

“OSHA is holding the host employer and the staffing agency responsible for injuries that occur to temp workers,” Eppes says. “So, the message to employers is, ‘If you think you’re getting out of any responsibility from training or providing PPE just because you’re hiring temps, it’s not going to happen.’”

Finding full-time staff

Eppes says that by looking out for workers and having an open dialogue, employers can weave temporary employees into the fabric of their business.

“Sometimes you have to have a conversation when you see someone not following proper safety protocols,” Eppes says. “But when you establish that care and concern and workers understand that you’re not just yelling at them or [telling them they could lose their job] for screwing up, it helps workers understand you’re looking out for their best interests in the long run.”

Eppes says once workers know what is expected of them, they can better assimilate to a company’s culture as well as its expectations.

By taking the time and effort to safely train temp workers, employers can tap into a new resource pool and open a pipeline for full-time employees.

“Temp employees can often serve as an entry point for filling permanent jobs,” Eppes says. “Companies can see whether they’re on time, if they’re able to absorb the safety protocols and if they’re going to be a person that’s going to show up, follow the rules and be engaged.”

The author is the editor of Waste Today magazine and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.