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How to Keep Temporary Employees Safe

November 11, 2015

With the holidays again upon us, employee safety is an important concern, particularly for retailers who host Black Friday sales that draw massive crowds looking for great deals on merchandise. Please watch this short video before reading the remainder of this post.

As you can see, these holiday sales can at times bring about chaos and hysteria among customers who appear to engage in a mob mentality of procuring their desired products with no regard for others. Sadly, we hear stories every year of people getting trampled in the initial rush of the crowd into the store, or injured in some other way during these events. Less discussed, though, is the stress these events place on employees, as well as the real physical danger they face.

Many organizations utilize staffing agencies to contract hire temporary seasonal workers to help them handle these events and the influx of customers for the remainder of the year. However, all too often temporary workers are not provided the same protections as existing employees, resulting in an increased risk of workplace injuries and illnesses for these individuals. Therefore, OSHA's Temporary Worker Initiative was created to identify the joint responsibilities of host organizations and staffing agencies in keeping temporary workers safe.

Both employers play a role in meeting all relevant workplace safety and health regulations for temporary workers. Staffing agencies must:

  • Evaluate host employers’ worksites for present hazards to verify that safety guidelines are followed before placing workers in job situations
  • Train agency staff to recognize safety risks, and train temporary employees about general workplace safety principles
  • Define the scope of the work in the contracts
  • Maintain contact with temporary workers concerning contract fulfillment and job safety
  • Regularly communicate with the host employer and track injuries

Meanwhile, host employers have a duty to:

  • Follow their standard selection procedures with temporary workers to ensure that they are physically able to perform the job requirements
  • Provide proper job and safety training, as well as any necessary PPE, to temporary workers as would be provided to full-time employees
  • Manage temporary workers in daily operations as if they are full-time employees
  • Regularly communicate with the staffing agency, and record all injuries and illnesses

Safety_FirstIn the event of an injury or fatality to a temporary worker, both the host employer and staffing agency can be held liable following the incident investigation. Therefore, it is critical that both parties are diligent in their roles of maintaining regulatory compliance when temporary workers are placed on worksites.

Beyond the general standards for keeping temporary workers safe, retail host employers must also properly manage the large crowds for their sales events. OSHA provides guidelines for crowd management to avoid injuries for all employees, which include:


  • Hiring additional staff and having trained security personnel on site
  • Designate a location for each worker
  • Train all employees to manage the event
  • Contact local fire and police agencies to determine that the event meets public safety requirements, along with obtaining any required licenses to hold the event
  • Designate an employee to contact local emergency responders if necessary
  • Designate a store manager to make key decisions during the event
  • Provide signage for exit locations, store opening times, and other important information
  • Prepare an emergency plan that addresses potential dangers facing workers, such as overcrowding, crowd crushing, violent acts, and fires

Pre-event setup:

  • Set up barricades or rope lines to organize the crowd waiting to enter the store
  • Start lines away from the store entrance to control how customers enter the store to avoid customers pushing from the rear of the line
  • Designate employees to explain entrance procedures to customers prior to entry
  • Provide employees with radios and other forms of communication
  • Consider using numbered wristbands or tickets to control customer entry and access to merchandise
  • Spread sale items throughout the store to prevent overcrowding in one area
  • Move shopping carts and other obstacles inside the store and away from the entrance
  • Provide amenities such as extra toilets and water to customers
  • Communicate updated information to customers via signage and pamphlets

During the sales event:

  • Provide a separate store entrance for staff
  • Notify staff and crowd control personnel when the doors are about to open
  • Staff entrances with security personnel or guards, out of the way of entering customers
  • Use the speaker system or bullhorns to communicate information to the entering customers
  • Stop additional customers from entering the store once it has reached maximum capacity
  • Provide a safe entrance for customers with disabilities

Emergency situations

  • Do not restrict egress, and do not block or lock exit doors
  • Know in advance who to call for emergency medical response
  • Keep first-aid kits and other medical supplies available, have trained personnel on site in case a situation arises requiring CPR or other procedures
  • Instruct staff that in the event of an emergency, they should follow the directions of authorized first responders, rather than store policies or company rules

Following these guidelines will help minimize the potential for both customers and employees to experience an injury or fatality during these events.

I should note that the regulations described for temporary workers to not only apply to retail situations and sale events. Rather, organizations that need temporary work for any reason (such as a manufacturing plant bringing on additional help to meet a production deadline), must adhere to these standards. All workers, regardless of their status with the company, have a right to a safe work environment, so managers and safety leaders must take all steps necessary to minimize risks, properly train all employees, and follow safety rules to avoid safety incidents.

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Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.