Host employers, staffing agencies share obligations for respiratory, hearing protection

New OSHA bulletins address joint employer responsibilities for temporary workers

Posted July 6, 2018

OSHA released two new Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI) Bulletins to address the joint responsibilities of host employers and staffing agencies to provide respiratory protection and hearing protection to temporary employees. Both employers are responsible for determining the conditions of employment and complying with safety and health regulations.

Respiratory protection

TWI Bulletin No. 8 – Respiratory Protection explains how the staffing agency and the host employer can ensure that temporary workers who are exposed to airborne contaminants are appropriately protected under the Respiratory Protection standards at 29 CFR 1910.134 general industry; 1926.103 for construction; and 1915.154, 1917.92, and 1918.102, for maritime.

Host employers

According to the bulletin, the host employer is usually best suited for evaluating exposure levels, implementing and maintaining engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, providing an appropriate respirator, and maintaining a respiratory protection program in accordance with all requirements of the workplace standard. The host employer is typically most familiar with the respiratory hazards in the workplace and has the most control over eliminating or mitigating them. Further, the host employer is generally in the best position to implement a respiratory protection program and these provisions will likely be in place for permanent staff.

The host employer should communicate any changes to the respiratory protection program to the temporary employees and staffing agency.

Staffing agencies

The staffing agency is also responsible for its workers’ safety and health and has an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure that its employees are protected from workplace hazards as required by OSHA standards, including being aware of the respiratory hazards to which their employees may be exposed at the host’s worksite, the protective measures the host employer has implemented, and any requirements for respiratory protection at the host employer’s worksite.

OSHA says the staffing agency is also responsible for maintaining communication with its workers and the host employer.

Noise exposure and hearing conservation

TWI Bulletin No. 9 – Noise Exposure and Hearing Conservation describes how the staffing agency and the host employer can ensure that temporary workers who are exposed to hazardous noise levels are appropriately protected in accordance with OSHA standards 29 CFR 1910.95 for general industry and 29 CFR 1926.52 for construction.

OSHA’s noise standard states that when employees are exposed to noise levels exceeding the regulatory limits, feasible engineering and/or administrative controls must be used to reduce noise levels in the workplace.

Host employers

In most instances, the host employer has the primary responsibility for determining noise exposure levels, implementing and maintaining engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, providing appropriate hearing protection, and maintaining a hearing conservation program (HCP) in accordance with all requirements of the standard for the workplace.

Staffing agencies

On the other hand, the staffing agency shares responsibility for its workers’ safety and health and has an obligation to become familiar with any noise exposure hazards and controls in place, including an HCP and hearing protection requirements, at the host employer’s worksite prior to assigning workers. OSHA recommends the staffing agency take reasonable steps to ensure that the host employer has an HCP in place that covers temporary workers in the same way the host’s employees are covered. Also, it is the staffing agency’s obligation to inform temporary employees of the noise hazards they may encounter, and ensure, as far as possible, that its workers are adequately protected, including following any of the host employer’s safety and health rules. The staffing agency must maintain communication with its workers and the host employer regarding noise exposures.

Determining the responsible party

The noise standard requires that employers establish a valid baseline audiogram within six months of an employee’s first exposure at or above the action level, or within one year if a mobile test van is used, and that hearing protection is used in the interim. However, there are cases when temporary workers work for multiple host employers for short periods of time (i.e., less than a year), which means they could be missed by the host employers’ baseline and audiometric testing programs. OSHA says that in these cases, staffing agencies may be better positioned to meet these requirements.

Employers must also ensure that temporary employees receive an annual audiogram if required by the regulations, and that a comparison of the temporary employees’ annual audiogram to their baseline audiogram is performed in order to determine any loss of hearing. Further, employers must record all work-related hearing loss cases on their OSHA 300 Log, according to the recordkeeping requirements of 29 CFR 1904.10.

In situations where the time frame of the work performed means the temporary workers may be missed by the host employer’s audiometric testing program, the employers should work together to provide baseline and annual audiometric testing to temporary workers. Again, in these situations, staffing agencies may be better positioned to meet those requirements.

Determining which party is responsible for implementing the various aspects of the HCP should be done before temporary employees begin work. However, OSHA makes it clear that neither employer may avoid their ultimate responsibilities under the OSH Act by requiring another party to perform them. Employers should consider confirming in writing the specific responsibilities of each employer.


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