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SWANA releases 2015-2016 fatality data for U.S. waste and recycling industry

Nearly 100 fatalities in one year, in MSW collection, processing and disposal sectors

SWANA releases 2015-2016 fatality data for U.S. waste and recycling industry

At least 98 fatalities directly related to municipal solid waste (MSW) collection, processing and disposal occurred in the United States between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, according to data collected by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and released for the first time.

Of the fatalities reported in that time period, 38 were solid waste employees on the job, a majority of which occurred during collection. However, 13 of the fatal worker incidents took place at a landfill or materials recovery facility (MRF). The average age of workers who died on the job was 41.7 years old, with 60% being over the age of 40.

Eleven of the fatalities during collection were the result of an employee being struck by a vehicle while working outside a garbage truck, with an additional four fatalities happening due to workers falling off a truck they were riding. At post-collection facilities, being struck by a vehicle was also the most common cause of death.

SWANA also identifies 60 3rd party fatalities during this one year time period. These are incidents that involved solid waste trucks or equipment resulting in the death of a member of the general public. Over 70% of these fatalities were the result of a collision between two or more vehicles. Just over one-fourth of the incidents were a result of a collision between a solid waste collection vehicle and a pedestrian or bicyclist.

The month of April saw the most fatalities so far in 2016, with 8 third-party and 5 worker deaths. The deadliest single incident occurred in Ohio in May of this year when a driver and three passengers died in a collision with a solid waste vehicle.

Since July 1, 2016, SWANA has recorded 28 additional MSW related fatalities, with 18 third- party and 10 employee. There have been at least 3 fatal incidents per week for each of the past 3 weeks.

“The sobering statistics continue to shock our senses regarding the number of our peers that don’t make it home to their families every year,” said SWANA Safety Committee Chair Tom Parker of CH2M. “We must and can do better to provide training and programs to help all industry sectors. Our committee will work harder in developing programs to make our industry safer.”

“These data likely do not include all of the fatal incidents involving our industry that occurred during this time period,” noted David Biderman, SWANA’s Executive Director. “There are almost certainly fatalities that occurred that we are not aware of, but will likely be included in the federal government’s next safety data release. I hope that industry leaders will join SWANA’s effort to get waste collection employees off the list of ten most dangerous jobs.”

In 2013, the last year for which federal data on solid waste collection, MRF, and landfill worker fatalities are available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 36 employee deaths, or 3 deaths per month in 2013. The rate for the 2015-2016 period collected by SWANA is about 3.17 worker deaths per month. The BLS reported 40 solid waste collection worker deaths in 2014, but did not list MRF and landfill workers separately in their data.

The 2015 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) is scheduled for release on December 16, 2016. Preliminary releases, which normally appeared in August or September in past years, will no longer be produced.

In addition to collecting and analyzing fatality data, SWANA and its Chapters provide information and support through the organization’s Safety Ambassador Program. These Ambassadors serve as safety leaders within the Chapter to help reduce accidents and injuries by distributing information, providing training, and providing sympathy and educational outreach to an organization that suffers a fatality.

Providing education is a key component of SWANA’s renewed focus on safety, and SWANA will hold a safety seminar in Texas in November in response to the 9 fatal incidents that have occurred in Texas over the past 4 months. The half-day program will provide attendees with tools that they can use to improve the safety culture in their organizations and reduce injuries and accidents. Biderman added, “SWANA has a responsibility, given the recent epidemic of fatal events involving private and public sector trucks in Texas, to provide targeted safety information and training to employers and employees in that state. This will be the first of several SWANA safety events in Texas over the next 15 months.”

For more information on SWANA and its Safety Matters program, please visit

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