Participating core and specialty programs: Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies, Occupational Health Equity, Small Business Assistance, Safe●Skilled●Ready Workforce, and Translation Research.

Employers, researchers, nongovernmental organizations, workers, and policy makers will use NIOSH information to improve safety, and health among contingent workers and workers in non-standard work arrangements in the service sector.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population* Research Type
A Acute and chronic disease, Fatal and non-fatal injuries Characterizing contingent workers and risk factors Contingent workers; young workers and other vulnerable populations Surveillance research
B Fatal and non-fatal injuries, Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) Employer ambiguity, inadequate occupational safety and health training, and lack of programs Contingent workers; young workers and other vulnerable populations InterventionTranslation
C Heat-related illnesses Employer ambiguity, inadequate OSH training, and lack of programs Non-standard work arrangements (including seasonal outdoor workers) Intervention

* See definitions of worker populations

Activity Goal 7.5.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions at temporary employment agencies to improve safety and health for temporary agency workers in the services sector.

Activity Goal 7.5.2 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective safety and health interventions at temporary employment agencies in the services sector.

Activity Goal 7.5.3 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to better characterize the risk factors for contingent workers and workers in non-standard work arrangements in the services sector.


Contingent work is prevalent in the Services sector. Occupational hazards for these workers are the same or greater compared with those for workers in standard work arrangements in the same industry. Among all workers, there were 829 fatalities among contract employees in 2015 (17% of all workplace deaths). In the Service Sector, there were 139 fatalities among contract employees (29% of Service sector fatalities) [BLS 2016].

Occupational hazards can be greater for temporary agency workers because of a lack of clarity about which employer is responsible for their safety and the fact that they are more often likely to be performing a job for the first time. A hazard of temporary work is psychological morbidity possibly being related to job insecurity [Virtanen et al. 2005]. Other hazards are dependent on the work environment at the host establishment, which can be influenced by lack of training, protective measures, and adequate supervision.

Temporary employment services is within the top 20 industries with the largest wage and salary employment growth. Temporary agency workers report much higher levels of job stress, and experience about twice the number of poor physical and mental health days due to stress, than other service workers. Temporary agency workers are often employed in Construction and Manufacturing but a recent article about workers in Washington State, found that temporary agency workers working in the Construction and Manufacturing industries had more than a two- to four-fold higher rate-ratio than construction or manufacturing workers in standard work arrangements. For all major injury types suffered by construction and manufacturing temporary agency workers, medical only claims were 88 to 300% higher than those for workers in standard arrangements [Smith et al. 2010].


Little surveillance information on contingent workers is available. Key data sources on work arrangements categorize workers different ways, and sometimes the categorization is very broad to combine temporary workers with long term contract workers. This lack of knowledge is a research gap that needs to be filled. Consistent and tested questions need to be added to the major sources of labor statistics and work-related health data so that this worker population can be better understood. Tracking of contingent worker’s safety is lacking (GAO, 2015). Surveillance methods are not only needed to determine job types but also to count and record job risks and injuries and illnesses.

Temporary agency workers do not have clearly defined supervisory support for training and for expressing job concerns. Economic analysis, small business research, and other types of intervention research are needed to assist both host and client employers in creating a safe and healthy workplace, and improving well-being for temporary agency workers.

There is inadequate occupational safety and health training among temporary agency workers where socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities exist. This training should inform them of what is expected of their employer and host company. There are proven effective interventions to reduce the risk of health and safety hazards. These known interventions and employer and host company responsibilities need to be conveyed to temporary agencies and workers to improve health and safety in the workplace. Intervention and translation research is especially needed for young workers, seasonal outdoor workers, and other vulnerable worker populations.

BLS [2016]. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Smith CK, Silverstein BA, Bonauto DK, Adams D, Fan ZJ [2010]. Temporary workers in Washington state. Am J Ind Med 53(2):135-145.

Virtanen M, Kivimaki M, Jeonsuu M, Virtanen P, Elovainio M, Vahtera J [2005]. Temporary employment and health: a review. Int J of Epi 34:610-622.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018