Bad Press Takes Back Seat

IF YOU BELIEVE NEWS HEADLINES, choosing a career in the waste industry is a job track akin to a death wish. The Associated Press reported on the “Worker Killed in Garbage Truck Accident [who] Didn't Set Brake” in October 2003. And in January, the New York Times brandished the headline: “City Sanitation Worker Killed in a Freakish Truck Accident.”

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, Washington, D.C., solid waste workers have the seventh highest mortality rate nationally, with 48.8 deaths out of every 100,000 workers.

The industry — and particularly drivers who maneuver trucks through tight routes that are growing more congested — are well aware of the risks that accompany the job. Today's garbage trucks, loaded with hydraulic lifts and hi-tech mechanisms, can weigh as much as 25 tons and have tires as tall as a small child.

Thus, inherent safety risks in the waste industry create the need for a concise, standardized safety program. A written driver safety program is not only desirable for any size fleet, it is a requirement in controlling insurance costs, reducing potential third-party liability and keeping employees safe. Several considerations should be outlined when developing a driver safety program.

First, waste firms should draft a general policy statement that applies to all company drivers. This statement would include management's commitment and involvement in the program. Many companies have found that forming a safety or policy committee of representatives from all levels is an effective way to gather input to draft a policy statement. The policy statement may outline and describe driver and supervisor responsibilities, the purchasing and maintaining of safe vehicles, and the company's guarantee to provide ongoing driver training.

Policy statements also should establish policies on driving matters, such as seat belt use, substance abuse and cellular phone use. A safety policy also should: provide information on how the company selects its drivers; establish clear qualifications required of drivers; and outline the company's disciplinary and rewards policy.

For example, to assure the company selects the most qualified drivers, hiring criteria (as outlined in the company's driver safety policy) should include a thorough review of driving records and accident history. A typical program may establish that drivers should have:

  • No more than three convictions for moving violations during the three years immediately prior to the application date;

  • No major violations during the past three years;

  • No convictions for any alcohol-related or drug-related driving offenses during the past five years; and

  • No involvement in more than two preventable accidents involving personal injury or property damage during the past three years.

Clearly define company hiring procedures to check references, contact previous employers, verify licenses and conduct drug and alcohol testing. A company's driver safety policy also should establish protocol for periodic, and even annual, review of a driver's motor vehicle record (MVR).

Although MVR information should be kept confidential, a company can establish specific progressive penalties for each violation. For example, after two chargeable accidents, a driver may lose vehicle and company driving privileges. The same penalty could apply if the driver incurs one driving under the influence (DUI) conviction.

A thorough safety policy also should include a section on accident reporting, investigation and follow up. These procedures should detail the protocol for working with accident reporters and media-relations personnel. Finally, a safety policy should require that accident kits be placed in each vehicle.

Preventing accidents and corrective actions are the goal of any safety policy. Because when accidents are avoided, insurance costs decrease and employee safety increases. And, news headlines depicting risky waste jobs can become a thing of the past.