Michael Gochfeld, M.D., Ph.D. and Sandra Mohr, M.D., M.P.H.
Recent NIEHS-funded research on safety and health programs within the Department of Energy (DOE) found that hiring contractors often provides specialized knowledge in solving a problem, but also can bring “young, inexperienced, inadequately trained workers onto industrial and hazardous waste sites.”
The researchers found that reliable data on subcontractor health and safety programs are limited. They also found that DOE has first-rate safety standards, but that these standards are not always adhered to by contract workers, making for unsafe work conditions in some instances. They point out that DOE is increasing agency efforts toward enhancing contractor protection, but that there are lucrative financial incentives for productivity that are not offset by “disincentives for unsafe work practices.”
The report points out that these findings are probably not unique to DOE because of the increased national and international trends for outsourcing of work traditionally done by direct hires. The research team recommends that “site hosts” such as DOE maintain stringent oversight of safety and health programs for all workers by working with contractors at all levels to value safety of workers above all other considerations and that contracting should not be viewed as a means of lessening the liability of the owners of hazardous waste sites and facilities.
Citation: Gochfeld M, Mohr S. Protecting contract workers: case study of the US. 2007. Department of Energy's nuclear and chemical waste management. Am J Public Health 97(9):1607-1613. [Abstract] (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17666686&ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum)