Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, 21, died tragically on his first day of work at his first job, as a “temp worker” at a Bacardi bottling facility in Jacksonville, Florida. He began his shift within 15 minutes of arriving at the facility, after completing some paperwork and watching a very brief safety video. Although working in a bottling facility is a dangerous job, Davis and his coworkers received no real training about the potential hazards or proper safety procedures. Within hours, Davis was asked to help clean up some broken bottles caused by a machine malfunction. While he was under the machine picking up the glass, the equipment was turned back on, and he was crushed to death.
Davis’ story is a poignant example of an eager and hard-working individual killed on-the-job because no one cared to train him, despite legal requirements to do so, before placing him in harm’s way. This troubling reality is illustrated in a new, eye-opening documentary, A Day’s Work, which shares Davis’ story and the shocking practices of the temp industry that have caused his and so many others’ untimely deaths.
Millions of hard-working men and women across the United States are “temporary employees,” assigned to jobs through a staffing agency they hired to help them find work. According to the American Staffing Association, a staffing industry trade group, staffing agencies employ more than 14 million temporary workers over a one-year period. In 2014, turnover among temp workers was 359 percent, and the average length of employment was 11.3 weeks.
With such high turnover, one could assume that most companies wouldn’t want to incur the expense of training new temp workers who likely won’t be around in a few months, especially when the job requires significant training. Yet 37 percent of temporary employees are assigned to jobs in industrial settings, where hazard identification and training are essential for worker safety. Some companies avoid the cost by choosing not to provide necessary training, at substantial risk of harm to the workers, like Davis. This is made even easier given that the staffing agency serves as the “employer,” and is responsible for workers compensation insurance, allowing a host company to easily replace an injured temp worker instead of holding the job until he or she recovers.
The story of Day Davis has brought significant attention to the fact that temp workers aren’t always being trained for the jobs they’re assigned, putting them at risk of injury or death. OSHA’s Administrator, Dr. David Michaels, attended a screening of the documentary film about Davis at the Public Welfare Foundation in Washington, DC last week, where he spoke about the steps OSHA is taking to ensure temp workers’ safety in the wake of Davis’ death. Recently, OSHA has emphasized the joint responsibility of staffing agencies and host employers to provide temporary workers a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA has also directed regional officials to document during inspections the presence of temporary workers and the health and safety conditions surrounding them.
As I’ve written previously, OSHA should also seek to discourage companies from using large numbers of temp workers, especially in dangerous environments. When employers are caught using temporary workers that they haven’t properly trained, OSHA should impose maximum penalties on them to send a message that jeopardizing workers’ health and safety won’t be tolerated.
Action to improve temp workers’ health and safety can also be taken at the state and local level. In Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State and Local Policy Reform, CPR Member Scholars’ explain that state legislatures should pass laws requiring employers to inform workers about the education and training requirements that apply to their job in a language they can understand. In states that operate their own health and safety programs, legislation could expand on federal OSHA’s education and training requirements by mandating that employers establish a program that includes training for all new hires and new assignments, refresher courses for existing employees, and expanded access to injury and illness records.
Without adequate training, the number of preventable injuries and fatalities involving temp workers will only continue to rise. It’s time to take action to ensure employers are providing proper training to temp workers, and permanent employees too. Every man and woman deserves to return home from work at the end of the day.
To learn more about “A Day’s Work,” and the movement to push for temp worker rights, click here.