Safety First: Let's Protect Our Workers

New column will comprehensively address safety issues facing waste industry.

When Waste Age contacted me last month about writing a monthly column on safety, I was thrilled. For years, I have been working hard to reduce fatalities, accidents and injuries involving solid waste vehicles and employees.

Recent federal data showing a sharp decline in the waste collection employee fatality rate indicates that these efforts, as well as an increased emphasis on safety at companies and local governments both large and small, are paying off. Waste Age's broad reach will provide a new platform to spread, as I like to call it, the “safety juice.”

While the safety-related newsletters, e-mails and other communications that the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) send out on a regular basis are important, they only go to people at companies or local governments that have made the decision to become members of one of those associations. There are many thousands of industry employees who don't work for association members but who read Waste Age. This column provides an opportunity to reach those people, companies and governmental entities.

Why is safety important? With apologies to the more rigid capitalists in the industry, nothing is more important than making sure every worker goes home to his or her family every day with all 10 fingers and all 10 toes. A healthy employee usually means a productive employee, and productive workers tend to make companies more profitable.

When an accident occurs, even when no one is injured, it costs money. A truck needs to be repaired. Someone has to work overtime to finish a route. A third-party property damage claim needs to be handled. Insurance agents and lawyers often get involved. When was the last time you were happy to call your company lawyer in connection with an accident or injury?

When someone is injured or killed, that is when the human and financial costs can become very large, very quickly. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. Juries can award multi-million dollar awards to injured plaintiffs or the family of a deceased individual. For a small hauler operating on a slim margin, that can be the difference between a profitable enterprise and going out of business. A single accident can mean the end of a company. And let's be clear, even with the industry's recent improvements in safety performance, solid waste companies and local governments still are involved in up to 100 fatal accidents every year.

This column will cover a variety of topics in coming months, everything from safety basics such as the importance of the ANSI Z245 safety standards to how to conduct a meaningful worker observation program. But what I really want to write about are topics that are relevant and interesting to YOU. I am many things, but a mind reader is not one of them.

So if there is a safety topic that you would like me to address in a future issue, e-mail me at [email protected]. Thank you for this opportunity to keep spreading the safety juice.

David Biderman is general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. He oversees the organization's safety programs.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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