As far as workplace safety goes, there’s no difference in injuries suffered by temps or full-time employees doing the same job, right? New information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says, not necessarily.

In its first look at safety for workers in the gig economy, BLS says the proportion of falls, slips and trips that caused fatalities was 71% higher in what the agency calls “independent workers” compared to all other workers.

For independent workers, fatalities from exposure to harmful substances or environments were 18% more likely, and deaths from contact with objects or equipment were 25% more likely.

During 2016-17, independent workers accounted for 12% of all workplace fatalities.

The occupation with the largest number of fatalities to independent workers was heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (173 deaths), followed by first-line supervisors for construction and extraction workers (95 deaths), and then construction laborers (79 deaths).

BLS notes independent workers are considered to be an at-risk group because of their changing employment situations, which puts them at greater risk for poorer workplace safety and health.

Why are these workers at greater risk?

  • They’re assigned more hazardous work, and because of their employment situations, they’re more reluctant to object
  • They’re more likely to lack specific training
  • They’re less likely to have access to sufficient PPE
  • When it comes to workers hired through an agency, there’s sometimes confusion about who handles safety training – the agency or host employer, and
  • Due to a lack of paid sick leave, independent workers are more likely to work while sick which increases the chance of injury.

    What can employers do to protect independent workers?

  • Figure out ahead of time who is responsible for workplace safety training (agency or host employer)
  • Make sure there’s a good flow of information about injuries between staffing agencies and host employers, and
  • Host employers should provide independent workers with safety training that’s identical to what full-time employees doing the same work receive.

    Note: BLS’s definition of independent workers includes not only people hired from an agency but also independent contractors, on-call employees and day laborers.