From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Study: Temporary Employees Face Higher Risks, Produce Higher Claim Rates

Individuals working for temporary agencies commonly assume employment in job categories that have a higher risk of injury (construction, manufacturing, and transportation/warehousing) and produce higher workers’ compensation claim rates compared to regular employees in those same job categories according to a state of Washington study involving 377,736 claims reported over 3.5 years.

The risk of a specific injury type for temporary employees (compared to a regular employee in the same industry) can be dramatic:

  • In construction, “caught in”, “toxins”, and “struck by/against an object” injuries are each three times more common
  • In manufacturing, “toxins” and “struck by/against an object” injuries are each three times more common
  • In transportation/warehousing, “struck by/against an object” injuries are twice as common

Despite a higher rate of injury, temporary workers have lower median costs for both medical treatment and time loss.

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
When applying an ergonomic program within a company (especially construction, manufacturing, and transportation/warehousing), it is important to determine the number and job titles of temporary workers. The organization should remain informed regarding the potential for increased risk and costs related to ergonomics and safety. 

Other Key Study Points
Temporary employees who filed medical only claims were more likely to be:

  • Working in manufacturing (40.5% temporary versus 15.9% permanent workers)
  • Working in transportation and warehouse (26.3% temporary versus 4.3% permanent workers)
  • Questioned by employers regarding claim validity (twice as often compared to permanent workers)
  • Initially denied for workers’ compensation coverage (over twice as often compared to permanent workers)
  • Male
  • Under 25 years old
  • Single
  • Living in economically vibrant counties

Temporary workers were much more likely to be low wage workers (less than $25,000/year)

Excluded from this research were temporary employees who were day laborers, contract workers, company direct-hire temporary workers, and all others who did not seek employment through a temporary agency.

Study Method
All claims filed by the 17 state of Washington temporary agencies with dates of injury from January 1, 2003 to June 30, 2006 were examined.  The companies which employed the injured temporary workers were classified into industry sectors based on the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS).  The temporary worker claims were matched to claims of non-temporary workers who were employed by companies in the same industry sector.

The type and nature of injury/illnesses were sorted into the following groups:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, back and upper extremity
  • Musculoskeletal disorders of the lower extremity
  • Struck by or against injuries
  • Caught in, under, and between injuries
  • Fall from elevation
  • Fall on same level
  • Contact with radiations, caustics, toxic, and noxious substances
  • Other injuries

Injury rates between temporary and non-temporary workers from the same NAICS were calculated.

The state of Washington Labor and Industries State Fund system provides workers’ compensation coverage for approximately 66% of all employees within the state. 

This study can be acquired at:

Article Title: Temporary Workers in Washington State

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53:135-145, 2010

Authors: C K Smith, B A Silverstein, D K Bonauto, D Adams, and Z J Fan

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-02-22.