When you think of safety, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is personal protective equipment (PPE) like hard hats, reflective vests and eyewear. While these items are integral parts of any effort to keep workers safe, they are just the beginning. The most important factor in a landfill safety program is the commitment of a landfill's manager and its employees.
Landfill workers are busy. They have to deal with large equipment and trucks that are constantly on the move, often uncooperative weather, and material that may be hard to handle. Through it all, though, they must always watch out for their customers, their coworkers and themselves.
Safety starts the minute a site manager and employees set foot at the landfill. They should discuss it at their daily planning meeting and live it through the day. What follows is a summary of some best practices.
Be alert. Being hit by a moving vehicle is one of the biggest hazards at a landfill. A co-worker is no match for a 50-ton compactor or an 18-ton truck. It sounds simple, but employees must keep an eye out for people walking around their vehicles.
Spotters can play a very important role in a site's safety. They manage the activity at the landfill's active face, controlling the traffic, preventing scavenging, separating the small and large trucks, and watching out for unauthorized loads that may have gotten by the scale master.
Wear PPE. Visibility is critical. All landfill workers must wear PPE at all times. That is not optional. A worker clad in a bright yellow safety vest stands out against a background of brown dirt, dust and debris, and is much more likely to be seen by a truck driver.
Minimal PPE includes a safety vest, hard hat, protective eye- and footwear, gloves and puncture-resistant work boots. Devices to protect hearing also should be used.
Conduct a pre-operation inspection. All landfill equipment must be inspected before it is operated. If any items need repair, the operator must report them and should not operate the equipment until repairs are made.
Before starting an inspection, the operator must make sure that all tools, blades and buckets are securely grounded; that any hydraulic energy is released; that the transmission is in neutral; and that the brakes are engaged. The inspection should include:
Ensuring the back-up alarm and strobe lights are functional;
Making sure the fire extinguisher or fire system is fully charged;
Adjusting mirrors as necessary;
Cleaning the windows and checking for broken glass; and
a walk-around of the equipment to determine if any other items or features need attention.
At the end of the shift, equipment operators should park their vehicle properly and report any maintenance or safety problems that may have developed during the day.
Be careful getting on and off equipment. Landfill equipment may be covered with dirt, moisture or other slippery material. Jumping or climbing on to an unstable surface can result in a serious injury. A worker has four points of contact: two hands and two feet; he or she should use at least three of them when entering or exiting equipment.
Communicate with others. Safety communication starts with the scale house operator. Just as flight attendants remind flyers to wear their seatbelt and keep their tray tables in an upright and locked position, the scale master must alert drivers about landfill safety regulations and reduce the amount of foot traffic. It may seem repetitious and unnecessary, but it is vital to customer safety.
Equipment operators need to watch out for people walking around outside the vehicles. If an operator gets out of his or her equipment, that person should let all of the other operators know before doing so.
Know your blind spots: “Can you see me now?” Big trucks and people moving around in a small space can be a bad combination. Drivers can't see everything; they do have blind spots in their trucks and equipment.
Before backing up, drivers must look behind the truck or equipment before shifting and moving in reverse. Backing before looking is a bad habit that could lead to serious accidents or injuries. Backup alarms alert people nearby that a piece of equipment is moving in reverse but sometimes the backup alarm is not heard or people become sensitized to it and ignore it. Therefore, drivers must always look first.
At the active face, only the driver and absolutely necessary personnel may be outside of a vehicle or other piece of equipment. All others must stay away.
Keep their distance. Landfills can get crowded — make sure there is as much space as possible between trucks coming in and out of landfill. Also, keep smaller trucks and vehicles away from the active working face.
Safety at a landfill starts with the everyday effort and commitment of a site's manager and employees. In other words, landfill safety is no accident.
Mark Clinker is the general manager of Republic Services' Apex Regional Landfill in Las Vegas.