Safe + Sound Week follows 23 waste and recycling worker fatalities in the U.S. in the first half of 2020
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is supporting Safe + Sound Week, August 10 - 16. This nationwide event held each August recognizes the successes of workplace health and safety programs and offers information and ideas on how to keep America's workers safe.
With at least 23 waste and recycling workers killed on the job in the first six months of 2020 in the United States, more remains to be done to protect the men and women in the industry.
SWANA encourages all solid waste employers in the public and private sectors to have robust health and safety programs in place. Safe + Sound Week is an opportunity to highlight the many resources that are available to build and improve those programs. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides Safe + Sound resources especially for management leadership, worker participation, and finding and fixing hazards. SWANA's numerous safety resources and initiatives are also available to the entire industry.
"Nothing we do at SWANA is more important than helping workers go home to their families at the end of the day, and unfortunately, we have about one worker fatality each week in the industry," stated David Biderman, SWANA's Executive Director and CEO. "We are starting to see an uptick in frequency of these tragic incidents and urge solid waste companies and municipal agencies to focus additional resources on keeping their workers safe."
Improved health and safety programs are needed within the industry to better protect workers and the public. Between January and June of this year, 23 solid waste and recycling workers were killed in the United States, with more than a third occurring in single-vehicle crashes. Overall worker deaths in that time period are comparable to 2019 when there were 24.
Members of the public killed in solid waste-related incidents are down significantly this year. There have been 28 third-party deaths in the United States through June 30 compared to 40 deaths during that same period in 2019. This reduction is most likely due to fewer motorists on the road and a decline in pedestrians due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vehicle crashes with waste collection trucks remain the most common cause of death in these cases.
Texas is the state with the most fatal incidents so far with nine total fatalities, while New York has had six and Florida has had five. Almost 40 percent of all U.S. fatalities involving a worker, or a member of the public occurred in these three states.
"Tragedy has struck our industry many times this year. I have experienced this firsthand," said Bridgett Biggs, SWANA Safety Ambassador and West Area Safety Manager for Rumpke Waste and Recycling. "Lives that are forever changed in an instant. Safety isn't a directive, it's a culture. It's what gets our men and women home safe at night to hug their families. We have to be vigilant and continue to stress the importance of safe practices within our workplaces. We have to educate our drivers and help them understand the risks that are out there on the roadways. Distracted driving is one of the biggest issues we are seeing this year. Whether it be the motoring public or our drivers. Our message is to be alert and be aware at all times out on the route."
Biggs added, "Our people are the heartbeat of our industry. It's our responsibility as safety professionals to educate and encourage them. They should know their importance and feel that from their leaders."
Traditionally, waste management companies have operated using a simple "management of waste" approach to operating a MRF. Throughput targets and continuous operation (minimal downtime) were the main driving forces. The industry has changed however, and the focus moving forward is now on optimizing system performance and reliability, in conjunction with increasing recycling rates and a drive for a "greener" and more sustainable tomorrow.
When considering the addition of, or upgrade to, an "intelligent" MRF, for municipalities or private operators, the main factors should always be the client's (operator) current requirements, and evolving market needs, which include throughput, reliability, output quality, and adaptability. Equally important is a full understanding of what is really expected from any proposed system. Having an engaged and focused mindset for the project with the client from the beginning, will impact and drive the entire design process. This then impacts the overall project result, through to the productive, efficient, ongoing operation of the facility itself.