Safety First

Safety First: Proceed with Caution

If it wasn’t for Bill Clinton, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) probably would not have such a well-regarded safety program.

Let me explain. In 1999, the Clinton Administration proposed workplace safety rules governing ergonomic hazards. NSWMA filed comments opposing the proposed rules, testified at the public hearing, met with Administration officials to explain that solid waste companies do not control the size or weight of waste placed at the curb, and suggested the industry be exempted from the proposed rules. After final ergonomics rules were issued in late 2000, NSWMA participated in a successful effort to lobby Congress to overturn them in 2001.

NSWMA’s collection and review of safety data in connection with ergonomics increased its awareness of the wide variety of safety hazards that solid waste employees face on a daily basis, and in mid-2001, NSWMA and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) applied for a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide safety training. The request was approved and NSWMA began holding safety seminars throughout the United States that provided guidance and best practices on preventing injuries and accidents.

When it was time to apply for a renewal of the grant, NSWMA and EREF requested funds to develop a safety training video. OSHA approved the request, and NSWMA, with assistance from Republic Services, EST Solutions and members of NSWMA’s resurrected Safety Committee, scripted, shot, edited and released Be Safe, Be Proud. Three more safety videos and a Slow Down to Get Around commercial were developed over the next four years. More than 2,000 of these videos have been sold, and they have been seen by a substantial number of workers in the solid waste industry.

As a result of these videos, NSWMA learned even more about the safety hazards faced by employers and employees in the solid waste industry. In 2005, NSWMA and the Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) began sending a weekly safety newsletter to all of their members. The newsletter, Safety Monday, provides information about a recent accident or safety hazard, or advice about OSHA or Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance. It helps members reduce accidents and injuries while attracting new NSWMA and WASTEC members.

NSWMA continues to offer safety seminars — for both members and non-members — providing useful information on the leading causes of fatalities, accidents and injuries, the importance of the WASTEC ANSI Z245 standards, OSHA/DOT compliance, and how to improve safety culture and get employees to change unsafe behaviors. These programs are very well attended, with hundreds of attendees annually. NSWMA also provides company-specific safety training to employers and is invited frequently to speak at industry conferences and events about safety.

In the decade or so since NSWMA increased its focus on safety, the fatality and injury rates for industry employees have declined by more than 40 percent. But there is much more that needs to be done. Too often, motorists and others are killed in collisions with garbage truck; although in many cases it appears to be the motorists’ fault. We can’t stop someone from texting while driving or driving into the back of a truck, but we will try to make sure every driver, helper and equipment operator is equipped with the proper safety tools and training to do his job safely, and go home to his family safely, every day.

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