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2018 Industry Fatality Data shows 78% increase among solid waste collection workers in just one year

Refuse and recyclable material collection remains the fifth deadliest job in the United States

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The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the 2018 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showing refuse and recyclable material collection remains the fifth deadliest job in the United States.

By industry category, solid waste collection workers (NAICS 562111) suffered 57 on-the-job fatalities, compared to 32 the year before. This represents a 78 percent increase in deaths in just one year. 

Solid waste landfills had three fatalities in 2018 compared to six in 2017. There were also three worker fatalities at material recovery facilities (MRFs) in 2018.

"The BLS 2018 fatality data for the industry is not surprising, as we have been telling SWANA members and others in the industry that we had identified an increase in fatal incidents last year since we recorded 19 of them in January 2018," SWANA Executive Director and CEO said. "The increased strength of the economy in 2018 may have played a role in the higher number of fatal incidents, as volumes increased. Smaller private sector haulers have a disproportionate number of these tragic events, and we encourage them to take advantage of SWANA's safety resources."

Biderman added, "In addition to the 63 worker fatalities identified by BLS, SWANA is aware of about 100 third-party fatalities last year involving other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists in the United States and Canada."

In response to the uptick in early 2018, SWANA added new safety resources, including the rollout of its Hauler Safety Outreach program, during which SWANA chapters  and their partners distribute safety materials at landfills and other disposal facilities.  In late 2018, SWANA initiated its Safety Pledge, in which it asks drivers, heavy equipment operators, managers, and others to pledge to do their job safely.  More than 3,000 industry professionals have taken the SWANA Safety Pledge, with Texas and Arizona leading in total signatures.

"We are disappointed to see such an increase in solid waste collection worker fatalities in 2018, but remain resolute in our efforts to turn it around," said Dennis Batts, Emergency Operations and Safety Program Manager for the Fairfax County, Virginia Division of Solid Waste and SWANA Safety Committee Vice Chair. "We will continue to rally together to make this industry and its workers safer—and efforts like SWANA's Hauler Safety Outreach Program and the National Alliance signed in September 2019 between the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) and SWANA will help to focus those efforts on the risks that pose the greatest danger to solid waste employees and the public they serve."

In November, BLS released the 2018 employer-reported injury and illness data showing an increase in the solid waste collection employee incident rate and reductions for employees at solid waste landfills and MRFs. The health and safety challenges that these reports highlight will continue to guide SWANA and its members in their efforts to ensure all workers in the United States and Canada make it home safely each day.

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