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Temporary Work is Dangerous Work

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On July 29, 2013, a Florida propane plant owned by Blue Rhino, who makes those big propane tanks you can buy at Wal-Mart, exploded. 5 workers were severely burned. OSHA claims Blue Rhino broke 26 workplace safety rules and fined it $73,000. Which is almost nothing considering the size of Blue Rhino and the injuries involved. Blue Rhino of course denies everything and blames careless employees, i.e., what almost every single employer has said about almost every single workplace accident for the entire history of industrialization. But for me, the lede is buried.

Many of Blue Rhino’s employees were temporary workers from a staffing agency, which is also facing OSHA fines for failing to properly train the laborers to work with hazardous materials.

While it’s unclear whether any of the injured workers were temp workers, the fines strongly suggest they were involved. It’s not surprising at all that these workers would be poorly trained for the dangerous labor they were engaged in. And of course, these should have been Blue Rhino employees. But manufacturers use temp labor all the time, sometimes to solve a short-term staffing problem, but quite often to offload the risk and cost of a new employee onto a contractor, allowing the company to pay them very little while trying them out on the job. It’s an exploitative system and one that can be quite dangerous.

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