The Solid Waste Industry is paying more attention to safety, and the numbers back it up.
According to a report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatality rate for solid waste collection workers decreased to 22.8 per 100,000 workers in 2007 from 40.7 per 100,000 in 2006. The decrease dropped the solid waste industry from fifth-most fatalities in 2006 to ninth-most in 2007. During the past two years, the top three most-dangerous industries — the fishing, logging and airline industries — have not changed.
“The [bureau's] report reflects the hard work of senior management, safety managers and others at solid waste companies, who have been focusing on improving the safety performance of their employees,” said Bruce Parker, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), in a press release. “Most companies no longer believe accidents and injuries are part of doing business in this industry.”
David Biderman, general counsel for NSWMA, says the decrease can be attributed to a wide variety of things, including both national and smaller companies changing their approaches to educating their employees about safety. “Repeating a safety message is critical to their approaches,” he says. Biderman oversees the association's safety efforts, which include the “Slow Down to Get Around” campaign, the “Be Safe Be Proud” video series and space management training sessions for haulers in cities across the country. “It's good to see the work we've done vindicated through the data shown [in this report],” he says.
One of the most important things companies must stress to their employees, Biderman adds, is that they are not immune to becoming a statistic. “They never think it's going to be them,” he says.
Larry Stone, safety director for Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Cos., attributes the decrease in fatalities and overall increase in safety awareness to NSWMA and its efforts to connect companies within the industry. “Until five years ago, a lot of companies never shared information of any kind, let alone safety information,” he says. “It was either a result of the competitive nature of the industry or [legal concerns].” He credits the increase of safety awareness at Rumpke to hiring more qualified employees, intense training and performance evaluation for all employees, and monthly, 30-minute, in-service meetings where various safety topics are discussed.
Susan Eppes, a safety and health consultant for Houston-based ESP Solutions, instructs collection companies on how to maximize their safety programs and employee awareness. She consults with smaller companies mainly because they often lack the rigid corporate overview of safety that is standard practice with national companies. “Safety is now mainstream,” she says. “It's a big part of business and not just something external.”
Eppes emphasizes five points to all of her clients. First, perform lockout/tagout procedures on all equipment at the appropriate time. Baler accidents, she says, are common due to failure to lockout/tagout. Second, space management with trucks, forklifts and other vehicles is very important. She advises drivers to unload with about 6 feet of clearance between other vehicles and about 15 feet between the truck and a dozer. Third, companies need to be conscious of preventing workers on routes from running across the street to make pickups on both sides of the street. Most of the time, she says, this is when workers are hit by oncoming traffic. Fourth, workers need to wear high-visibility clothing. Finally, seat belts need to be worn at all times for any employees in any vehicle.
In addition, Eppes recommends companies schedule regular safety sessions, like the ones at Rumpke, to ensure their employees keep safety in mind during their everyday routines.