Published: 14/07/2014
In February 2013, a temporary worker at a sugar plant and warehouse operation in Pennsylvania was buried alive in sugar when he fell through a hopper he had climbed into to free up the flow. A newly published report from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reveals that this fatal accident would have been avoided if a safety device – a simple screen over the hopper – had not been removed only 13 days earlier because the plant manager believed it was slowing down production.

At the time of the accident the warehouse was staffed entirely by agency workers.

According to an investigative report the company, CSC Sugar, with operations in the US and Mexico, includes beverage maker Snapple and Unilever’s Ben and Jerry’s among its clients. CSC had previously been fined by OSHA for not training temp workers at another facility.Temp workers interviewed at the Pennsylvania facility told reporters they had received no safety training.

OSHA assigns joint responsibility for training to both the agencies and the user enterprise. Both are falling through the regulatory cracks. Analysis of US accident compensation claims (which understate the magnitude of the problem because workers are under pressure not to seek compensation) confirms that temporary workers face a much higher risk of injury on the job – and are exposed to even higher risks of the most serious injuries – than permanent workers. A 2013 US study found that half of the employers with the highest number of workplace amputations – fingers and fingertips, arms and legs – were temp agencies, and called the situation a “public health emergency”.

CSC was fined USD 25,855 following the accident, later reduced to 18,098.