A Publication of WTVP

Every year, the National Safety Council declares June as National Safety Month. The goal, of course, is to enhance the cultural awareness of safety in all areas of our lives. This year's National Safety Month theme, "Safety Where We Live, Work and Play," reflects the need for injury prevention awareness in the workplace, in our homes and communities, and on our roads and highways. This article focuses on the workplace.

In the staffing industry, every month is safety month. It's a requirement, as the industry is fighting for its life regarding worker compensation (WC) in Illinois. Illinois is the 19th most expensive state in the nation when it comes to workers' compensation premiums. In fact, Illinois companies pay 40 percent more for WC than Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Businesses with hundreds or thousands of employees-often staffing firms-multiplied by 40 percent higher WC costs is an incredible burden. It's one of the reasons businesses are leaving the state and hindering new businesses from relocating here.

One of the ways Illinois businesses try to avoid WC costs is by using a staffing firm to staff open positions. This makes the staffing firm responsible for the WC for the employees they send to clients. This business decision to avoid WC risk is understandable. However, smart businesses that use this technique still realize they aren't devoid of any responsibility for safety for the employees at their site, permanent or temporary. These businesses understand that by ignoring safety, they'll eventually get bitten by increased WC costs-either through production slowdowns, rates imposed by the state, or increased rates by staffing firms. Therefore, a good safety partnership must exist between a staffing company and its client.

There are many things the staffing firm and the client each can do to strengthen the safety partnership. On the staffing side, solid background checks, skills assessments for the job required, and training-both for safety and the job required-are essentials. On the client side, a good, enforced safety program and an immediate, open communication approach with the staffing firm are essentials. Together, both entities must work mutually during the investigation of any staffing injury and in devising plans to prevent reoccurrence. Finally, both organizations must publicly support the safety programs and measures at all levels of leadership-from the boardroom to the factory floor.

In general, most business industries are in the same position of difficulty. When going to the bargaining table with labor leaders in regard to WC, as our governor has requested, we go together. Our reform issues, as outlined by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council, are the same: establish provisions to penalize workers' compensation fraud, hold workers injured while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol more accountable, provide greater flexibility for employers to control WC medical costs, etc. We must work together. IBI