INSURANCE: Cutting Your Losses

Fleet managers certainly want their drivers to avoid major collisions and the subsequent costly insurance claims, but they also should remember how essential it is to protect workers who drive or perform daily garbage truck activities from injuries.

Truckers know that driving a large vehicle is a tough job. For those who ride along in the waste collection process, the job may be even more difficult. Accumulated evidence shows how dangerous the job can be.

For instance, motor vehicle crashes have been the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities for several years. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), truck drivers, across industries, accounted for 957 occupational fatalities in 2000, second only to the most deadly of industries, construction, which recorded 1,154 deaths. There have been more than 132 fatal injuries involving waste collectors since 1992, the initial year the BLS began gathering its statistics. And across all industries, the nation's 3 million truck drivers had a significant number of lost time injuries, the BLS says.

Truck drivers lost more time per injury than any other job classification, with a median of 10 days away from work for each lost time injury.

Specifically in the waste industry, workers jump off and on trucks, lift and dump trash containers, and continuously walk in streets that makes workers susceptible to traffic hazards. Typical injuries include cuts, lacerations, punctures, bruises and contusions, which are minor injuries and require only a few recovery days. But overexertion is the leading cause of injuries in the waste industry, as well as many other industries.

Waste truck drivers are required to sit in one position for long periods of time, sometimes followed by heavy exertion. And this can result in sprains, strains, back injuries and muscle tears, which account for 48 percent of lost time injuries, and typically require five or six days of recovery.

A comprehensive safety and health program can help prevent injuries that are likely to result in claims. So as part of their workers' compensation loss control efforts, managers should look at their history of employee claims and address the types that are likely to cost money in the future.

The following are questions that can help managers begin taking a proactive approach to preventing injuries and loss:

  • What injuries has your company experienced?

  • Is personnel safety part of your training program or safety bonus?

  • Do you have a lifting techniques training program?

  • Have you warned drivers of the hazards from falling?

  • Would a flexibility or exercise routine keep your workers healthy?

On-the-job injuries are the impetus behind rising workers' compensation claims. And without loss control or cost control measures, workers' comp insurance costs can easily exceed automobile liability costs. Therefore, companies that take a preventative approach will go far in the long-run.