NSWMA: Focused on Safety

Safety remains a central focus of the solid waste industry and its trade association, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C. Despite the demise of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) ergonomics regulations in March 2001 and the perception that the Bush Administration enforces OSHA standards less vigorously than its predecessor, reducing the number of accidents, injuries and OSHA violations remains a key goal for all solid waste companies.

The waste industry has improved its overall safety record in recent years, yet many businesses continue to have a relatively high rate of OSHA violations compared to other employers. During fiscal year 2000, OSHA issued 383 citations to the industry (SIC Code 4953) and collected about $230,000 in fines. In fiscal year 1998, OSHA issued nearly 500 citations and collected more than $700,000 in fines for employers in that SIC code.

Citations and penalties aside, property damage and injuries to employees and others associated with accidents involving vehicles can hurt the bottom line.

In response, NSWMA is increasing its emphasis on safety training and education. For example, the association will release its updated defensive driving educational video training program, “Coaching the Refuse Truck Driver II,” in early 2002. Coaching includes a classroom video, instructors' guide, driver response book and other training materials. This updates NSWMA's popular Coaching module originally developed in 1989, which has been used by more than 80,000 employees of private solid waste companies and the public sector. To order Coaching, phone Nathandra Fuller toll-free at (800) 424-2869.

The NSWMA also recently updated its industry safety manual.

The landfill section covers traffic management, personnel safety aspects of landfill mobile equipment operations, composting operations, landfill construction operations and working face operations. The transfer station section includes personnel safety concepts and practices for restricted work areas, tipping floor operations and vehicular traffic management. The MRF section covers traffic management, personnel safety considerations for sorting line operations, processing and sorting systems operations, material storage, restricted areas, specialized material handling procedures and tipping floor operations.

The manual previously was updated in 1999 to reflect the changes in equipment technology, applicable regulations and facility design. It now provides guidance for safe operations in the waste and recycling industry, covering safety basics, including risk management and loss control; core practices focusing on workplace and environmental hazards; personnel issues associated with mobile collection and transportation operations; and personnel practices associated with processing equipment operations at refuse industry companies.

Ergonomics continues to be a controversial topic. OSHA is expected to announce a new ergonomics plan shortly, although it is not expected to include regulatory requirements.

The Department of Labor renewed its ergonomics grant to the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) in Sept. 2001, and NSWMA is working with EREF to administer the grant program. The Nov. 2001 ergonomics training session in Tarrytown, N.Y., was filmed and will be edited for use as a distance-learning educational program that will be available on the Internet. The two-hour Internet-based program is scheduled to be available in early 2002.

NSWMA also is updating and expanding its ergonomics website (www.nswma.org), and developing best management practices (BMPs) for repetitive injuries in the industry. BMPs likely will be developed in 2002. An ergonomics training session is planned for WasteExpo in Las Vegas in May 2002.

Additionally, NSWMA and its members in Pennsylvania have been responding to safety-related transportation concerns raised by state officials following the state's targeted enforcement program against solid waste vehicles. While state officials acknowledge that there have been significant improvements since the May 2001 “Operation Clean Sweep,” NSWMA and its members intend to do better. The association's staff is working on an initiative that addresses transportation safety issues.

“It's important that the industry manage material in a safe manner that complies with applicable laws,” says Bruce Parker, EIA's president and CEO. The value safety brings to the bottom line, and its relationship to the industry's image, make safety a priority for all companies, large or small.

David Biderman is EIA's general counsel. Contact the author at (202) 364-3743 or [email protected].