le 21 juin 2019
Don’t lose your life earning it

Here’s good news for wage-earners. In its latest « Occupational Health and Safety » report, the French state’s health insurance agency l’Assurance Maladie is justifiably pleased to have achieved a historically low level of workplace accidents in 2017. The risk of compromising physical integrity to earn a salary has decreased 18% in 10 years. Better still, since the « occupational risks » branch was founded in 1946, these risks have been slashed by a factor of four.

However, there is one category that eludes this ongoing improvement in statistics: temporary employees.  This is an anomaly and, frankly, a heresy: statistics in the temporary job sector are far above the national average. Worse, the situation has deteriorated since 2015. In just two years, the frequency of work-related accidents among temporary workers has increased nearly 20%. To put it more bluntly, a temporary employee is 1.6 times more likely to be injured or even killed in the workplace than a permanent employee. Obviously, this is not acceptable.

In its November 2018 memo, l’Assurance Maladie attributes this poor performance to the 2017 growth recovery. While this remark may seem insignificant, it hides a chilling reality. The increase in occupational accidents among temporary workers is becoming a marker of corporate health. People take this variable for granted to such an extent that no one is moved by these dramatic statistics anymore. I cannot accept this as fate. I cannot accept that the health of our employees should be considered as collateral damage of growth. Nor can I accept the idea that a statistical glass floor has kept the occupational risks of temporary jobs at a level 60% higher than the national average for years.

This grim reality has two major causes. The first is an unfair system for picking up workplace accident bills that makes companies using temporary workers less accountable. Today, players on the temporary job market alone bear two thirds of the costs incurred compared to one third borne by the companies that use their services. If the permanent physical disability (PPI) resulting from an incident is less than 10%, they are exempt from any liability at all. By its very nature, this immoral mechanism induces a number of perverse effects that are difficult to control.

The second reason is just as cynical: accidents suffered by temporary workers do not appear in the statistics of the companies to which they are assigned, but in those of temporary job agencies. From a strictly bookkeeping point of view, it is becoming more advantageous to hand out the most risky positions to temporary workers.

There is an urgent need for an in-depth review of these workplace accident compensation rules, the mechanics of which expose temporary workers to hazards.

This reality is a true failure for our profession because our narrative has fallen short of its mark. As players on the temporary job market, we have nevertheless been committed for a long time to a proactive occupational risk prevision policy. As early as December 2011, using the same words, I sent out a warning: « Our engagement alone is not enough ». I was convinced that, alone, we could not do everything.  Seven years have gone by and nothing has changed.

While interprofessional negotiations are soon to begin on workplace health and safety in line with the report on this issue, the time has come to bring the subject back into focus.

To do this, we must have the courage to face reality: because the duration of their assignments is variable, temporary employees find themselves in the position of a novice worker more frequently than the average. However, it is precisely during this induction phase that they are most exposed to the highest risks. One out of four temporary workers is under 25. These are less experienced, and therefore more vulnerable, people.

There are high-risk jobs in every sector of the economy that require extensive training and time to adapt. We are already shouldering our share of responsibility by offering training courses focusing on the most exposed positions. But it is in the development of hands-on skills, in contact with the permanent staff, and in the on-the-job support built on experience sharing, that the most effective solution to reduce temporary employee accident rates lies.

Because human lives are at stake, nothing could justify further delay or burying our heads even deeper in the sand. We must collectively implement simple and effective measures to finally break the workplace accident glass floor in the temporary job sector.