Cautious Celebration

According to data released by the federal government, the number of citations and penalties assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against solid waste companies declined in fiscal year 2006 (Oct. 1, 2005 through Sept. 30, 2006). The number of OSHA citations issued to solid waste companies in standard industrial classification (SIC) Code 4953, which comprises the vast majority of the solid waste industry, decreased from 477 in FY 2005 to 275 in FY 2006. Some inspections yield no citations, while other facilities are cited for multiple violations. But this is the lowest number of citations issued to employers in this SIC Code for at least a decade.

In addition to the impressive 42 percent reduction in the number of citations issued by OSHA, the dollar amount of penalties assessed to waste companies by the agency declined from nearly $300,000 in 2005 to $231,445 in 2006. The average OSHA penalty issued to a solid waste employer in 2006 was $840. The most common citations were for lockout/tagout and electrical equipment violations.

Moreover, the improvement in the solid waste industry's workplace safety compliance was not due to a drop in OSHA inspections, nor did the agency suddenly stop issuing citations. The number of OSHA inspections performed annually has stayed relatively level under the Bush administration. OSHA conducted more than 38,000 inspections last year, including more than 250 in the waste industry. This means, on average, every single business day, someone from OSHA arrives at a solid waste company to do an inspection. Similarly, OSHA issued nearly 84,000 citations overall in 2006, of which, more than 61,000 were deemed “serious.”

OSHA enforcement is primarily based on inspections conducted under national, regional or local emphasis programs. The agency recognizes that its inspectors cannot inspect every workplace in the United States annually. Thus, the majority of OSHA inspections are “programmed,” meaning the percentage of random inspections is relatively small. For example, one Florida solid waste company on OSHA's site-specific targeting list was inspected twice in the first two months of the year.

Based on the overall national data, solid waste companies appear to be doing a better job complying with applicable OSHA standards. It is likely this will result in fewer injuries and accidents, and fewer workers compensation, automobile liability and property damage claims.

“The national companies and many of the regional companies are really focusing more on safety, including OSHA compliance,” says Susan Eppes of EST Solutions, which does consulting work for solid waste companies. “NSWMA and WASTEC, through their safety programs, are helping these companies, as well as the smaller haulers, reduce fatalities, accidents and injuries.”

Safety initiatives spearheaded by the associations include Safety Monday; a weekly safety newsletter; the OSHA-sponsored series of “Be Safe, Be Proud” videos; the driver training program “Coaching the Refuse Driver II;” the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z245 standards; and safety training at Waste Expo.

With the Democrats now in control of Congress, there will be increased oversight of workplace safety issues. The proposed 2008 budget for OSHA recommends increased funding and staffing for the federal safety agency, although OSHA states these resources will be devoted to compliance assistance, not enforcement activities.

More information about OSHA's enforcement data for the solid waste industry can be found by searching for “SIC 4953” at
David Biderman
NSWMA General Counsel