An increasing number of U.S. employees are employed as “contingent” workers, an arrangement that can expose them to occupational safety and health risks not experienced by a permanent work force. A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) offers seven strategies to protect continent employees from unsafe working conditions.

The white paper “At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions,” by CPR member scholars Martha McCluskey, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro and Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz, highlights the occupational challenges facing contingent workers in the United States and suggests strategies to improve their working conditions.

“Their shared experience is one of little job security, low wages, minimal opportunities for advancement, and, all too often, hazardous working conditions,” the white paper says of workers whose employment is contingent upon short-term fluctuations in demand for employees. “When hazards lead to work-related injuries, the contingent nature of the employment relationship can exacerbate the negative consequences for the injured worker and society.”

Employers of contingent workers often do not pay for workers’ compensation or health insurance and can simply hire replacements when workers are injured – factors that give these employers little financial incentive to eliminate safety hazards or help injured workers return to work. Additionally, employers sometimes misclassify contingent workers as “independent contractors” in order to claim the workers will pay their own taxes and insurance – a practice that reduces the employer’s expenses while also removing the incentive to create a safe workplace, the paper states.

The white paper includes case studies on contingent workers in four industries: farming, construction, warehousing and hospitality. The construction industry, for example, employs a disproportionate number of contingent workers in the United States. Most of these workers are young men, and many are Hispanic or Latino, performing dangerous jobs that have a high risk for falls, nail-gun injuries, musculoskeletal injuries and more.