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Skilled Labor Shortage Presents Safety Concerns and Renewed OSHA Scrutiny

Posted: December 1, 2015

You cannot open a trade publication without reading about the shortage of skilled labor. Carpenters, welders, steel workers, electricians, project managers and estimators are in short supply. An Associated General Contractors of America survey found that 74 percent of the respondents believe there is a crunch in skilled trades and 53 percent report an inability to hire needed professionals; other surveys indicate the shortage is expected to worsen in coming years.

The tight labor market has left many contractors, engineering and architectural firms scrambling to recruit and retain personnel in an increasingly competitive labor market with rising pay rates. In fact, many contractors are forced to turn down work because of a lack of capacity. Others are taking on temporary workers from various sources including temp agencies. Construction Business Owners reports that “[s]taffing firms are rapidly growing because many construction firms are averse to hiring new staff and consider staffing firms to be a safer, more cost-effective method.”

Contractors should be mindful of the impacts of an increased use of temporary and/or less trained workers. For example,

the recent rise in use of temporary workers has given rise to increased scrutiny, regulations and enforcement by OSHA. In addition, OSHA has put employers on notice that they must treat temporary workers like permanent employees with respect to training, safety and health protections. In order to avoid potential enforcement actions, contractors need to be proactive with temporary workers. This includes ensuring that they receive all safety procedures and policies and are thoroughly drug tested before commencing on-site work and provided with all available safety training.

The use of temporary and less trained workers also has led to an increase in workers’ compensation claims. The Hartford recently reported in an article by its vice president of construction insurance, Tom Boudreau, that “workers’ compensation claims for construction workers with less than one year of experience on a job were nearly 3.5 times more frequent than those involving workers with at least one year of experience.” Now is a good time for contractors to review their workers’ compensation coverage to ensure it is not only compliant but sufficient in light of the changing marketplace for skilled help.

If you have any questions about this article or OSHA regulations and enforcement, please contact the author, Donald A. Rea, at 410.332.8680 or drea@saul.com.