It’s well known that working in the waste industry is statistically among the most dangerous occupations going. Heavy equipment, moving vehicles, hazardous substances – none of them play nicely with flesh and bone.
Over the years, being ultra-aware of the significant hazards involved in the collection and handling of waste has paid dividends, with increasingly strict health and safety regulations imposed – at least in the first world. So why then did the fatality rate among waste industry workers in the US and Canada jump to 59 in 2018?
According to the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), which campaigns hard on the subject of safety, 2018 saw an increase of 19 deaths over the previous year. In total 57 of the 59 deaths took place in the US and 71% of them occurred during waste or recycling collection.
In reviewing data collected from a variety of sources, SWANA found that ‘struck by’ incidents were the most common cause of fatality overall, followed by collisions and roll-over incidents. These represented nearly 50% of all worker deaths. About 10% of victims were on the riding step when the fatality occurred.
The causes of deaths at landfills, MRFs and transfer stations were more diverse than in collection, though being struck by heavy machinery or lockout/tagout (LO/TO) failures were common.
SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO, David Biderman, is rightly highlighting the issue and has labelled the industry’s safety record in 2018 as “not acceptable”"..
“SWANA calls on local governments, private companies, and others to devote more resources to safety and protecting the lives of those who work in the industry,” he continued.
Matt Morales, P.E., Arizona SWANA Chapter Safety Ambassador, Cinder Lake Landfill Project Manager is also concerned.
“While it is difficult to learn of the increased fatalities, it strengthens our dedication to turning the industry around. It’s obvious that we need to increase our effectiveness on this matter. We need more ‘real-time’ data on trending accidents and incidents in our states, regions, and provinces,” he said.
Fatalities among members of the public increased slightly in 2018 from 95 to 101 deaths. Including both workers and members of the public, January had the most fatalities in 2018, with 19 for the month, followed by March with 18. In only two months were more solid waste workers killed than members of the public, September and November.
SWANA provides a variety of safety resources to its members throughout the United States and Canada. These include its award-winning chapter-based Safety Ambassador programme, new Slow Down to Get Around stickers, frequent safety training events, and Hauler Safety Outreach at disposal sites.
For more information about SWANA’s safety programme, visit www.swana.org/safety.