June 5 was Michael White's third day at a new job loading garbage onto a disposal truck for Republic Services Inc., a big waste management company in Houston. The 31-year-old temporary worker had been assigned to work "the beast" - the hardest and heaviest of the Republic routes, requiring him to load 16 tons of garbage over a sweltering hot 10-hour day. He was not acclimated to working in the heat and never received training from his temp agency or from Republic about the dangers of heat illness.
When his body went into heat stroke, White's driver did not recognize the signs and did not know to move him into the shade. When the ambulance arrived, his heartbeats were irregular and his oral temperature had reached 107.8 degrees.
He was taken to the hospital, but his employers never contacted the doctors to give them his information or his next-of-kin emergency contacts, and he died alone in a hospital bed four days later.
Over the last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has received far too many reports of workers killed in their first few days at work. Most of these have been temporary workers. We have known for a century that new workers are at increased risk for occupational injury and fatality, and that higher risk is due to a lack of safety training and experience at that work site.
Just a few decades ago, temporary work was relatively rare and concentrated in white-collar professions. But in recent years their numbers have grown dramatically, and...