Free Content Workers' compensation experience-rating rules and the danger to workers' safety in the temporary work agency sector

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By putting a price on workplace health and linking this to costs incurred in individual businesses, experience-rating rules encourage employer 'gaming' – cost-reduction attempts that do not necessarily increase workplace safety. We argue that experience-rating rules, together with the rise of non-standard employment arrangements, have fostered the growth of the temporary work agency sector to which employers can outsource workplace injury risk.

This study explored how temporary work agencies in Ontario, Canada carry out workplace injury prevention and return to work. We aimed to understand why these agencies would shoulder experience-rating costs when they cannot control the work environment. Focus groups and in-depth interviews were held with 64 participants between 2009 and 2011. Participants included low-wage agency workers, temporary work agencies, client employers and key informants. Legal and documentary data were also analysed.

Our findings show how experience-rating rules create a market for outsourcing risky jobs to temporary work agencies, which cannot properly manage injury prevention and return to work. We detail how agencies are positioned to absorb experience-rating costs for their clients and avoid financial risk through cost transfer, premium rate groups, legal positioning, influencing accident reporting practices, and shutting down and re-opening the business.

Our findings also show how experience-rating arrangements can distort the responsibility these agencies have for work and health. In Ontario, these facilitate employer 'gaming', largely within the rules. We propose that workplace health would be less of a tradeable commodity, and workers' safety and return to work a more significant priority for employers, if experience rating were applied to the client employer who controls the conditions of work.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 31, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Policy and Practice in Health and Safety is an international journal published twice a year. It's designed as a forum for academic and policy discourse on health and safety and is aimed at those who practise, tutor, research or study health and safety regulation and management. All published papers have undergone a double-blind refereeing process by at least two referees.

    Policy and Practice is an important source of reference for anyone studying or working at a professional level in health and safety. It'll help to keep you up to speed on developing debates on a wide range of topics.

    The editor, David Walters, Professor of Work Environment at the Cardiff Work Environment Research Centre, leads Policy and Practice's authoritative international editorial board. The journal addresses practical workplace health and safety issues as well as focusing on a broader context - the social, economic and political discussions that shape employment and work.

    Subjects covered in recent issues include comparisons of different regulatory and management frameworks, case studies of occupational safety and health in individual locations, and the impact of economic and political factors on health and safety.
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