Falls from waste trucks and from mobile equipment such as loaders and excavators are a significant problem in the waste and recycling industry. The injuries sustained in these falls result in millions of dollars worth of workers’ compensation claims being paid out each year. Some of these falls, particularly those from the top of a waste truck or off the back of a moving waste truck, have led to permanent paralysis or death of the worker involved. Even minor falls while climbing onto or off of a waste truck or piece of equipment that only result in a sprained ankle or twisted knee will still result in medical expenses being paid and an employee being unavailable to work for a period of time.
In order to reduce falls from vehicles and equipment it is important to look at the four situations where these falls are most likely to occur. These situations are: 1) Falls while climbing into or getting out of the cab of a truck or piece of equipment; 2) Falls of collection employees who are riding on the outside of a moving truck; 3) Falls from a roll-off truck or transfer trailer while tarping or adjusting the load; and 4) Falls from the top of a compaction truck while cleaning or performing maintenance. Often, in all four of these situations, the falls are a result of not following basic safety rules, inadequate supervision or employee complacency.
How to Enter a Garbage Truck
Waste truck drivers, helpers and mobile equipment operators climb in and out of the cabs of their trucks or equipment countless times a day. It seems like a simple task, but this is one of the leading causes of falls in the waste industry.
Many waste entities have sought to reduce these types of falls by purchasing low-entry trucks and by conducting three-point entry and exit training for their employees. The three-point method requires the employee to always have three points of contact (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet) while entering or exiting a vehicle or piece of mobile equipment.
While three-point training is a good start, it must be followed up with supervision. The three-point method is often compromised by employees trying to enter or exit a vehicle or piece of equipment while carrying items in one of their hands such as paperwork, a phone/iPod or a coffee cup. Additionally, most employees tend to be more careful climbing into a truck or piece of equipment than they are when exiting it.
Supervisors need to identify and correct those employees who riskily exit the cab facing away from the truck or tend to come down one step and then jump to the ground. Some employees may not consider jumping to ground from the first or second step to be risky behavior because they have done it many times without consequence, but it only takes one wrong landing to break an ankle or blow out a knee.
Other factors that can lead to employees slipping while climbing into or getting out of a truck or piece of equipment include wearing improper footwear or a buildup of grease or debris on either the bottom of an employee’s shoe or on the steps of the vehicle or piece of equipment. Finally, a number of tragic accidents have occurred when helpers or other employees have attempted to climb into or out of the cab of a truck or piece of equipment while it was moving.
Again, safety rules enforced through adequate supervision are the best way to keep this type of risky behavior in check. Many employees don’t realize that a fall from a moving truck or piece of equipment can result in them being run over by that truck or piece of equipment.
The Dangers of Riding a Garbage Truck
Pure and simple, riding on the outside of any moving vehicle is a dangerous activity. Despite this fact, having collection workers riding on the back of waste trucks is a common necessity for many waste and recycling collection entities.
Typically, workers ride on the rear step of a rear-load waste truck. A rear step located behind the last set of tires that meets all other ANSI Z245.1 standards is the only place a worker should be riding on a moving truck. Several fatal accidents over the past few years have resulted from workers clinging to the sides or even the front of moving waste trucks.
Similarly, workers should never be riding on the rear step while the waste truck is backing. Violation of this basic safety rule is disturbingly common in the industry and has lead to numerous fatal injuries. Supervisors would be wise to make enforcement of this rule a top priority when it comes to protecting workers.
Even when workers are riding on an approved rear step and the waste truck is moving forward, the potential for serious injuries and death from falls still exists. The ANSI Z245.1 standard specifies that workers should only be riding on the rear step for short distances -- 0.2 mile or less -- and at slow speeds -- 10 miles per hour (MPH) or less. Violating this rule dramatically increases the likelihood of fall from a waste truck. The physics of trying to hang onto the truck when it takes a turn or hits a bump at 20 MPH versus 10 MPH mandate strict enforcement of this safety rule. Supervisors should also seek to correct employees who jump from the rear step while the truck is still in motion or who try to jump onto the rear step of a moving waste truck.
Even when all the safety rules are followed, falls can still occur, and a fall onto hard pavement at a speed of 10 MPH can lead to broken bones or worse. Workers losing their footing on the step, especially in rainy or snowy conditions, contributes to many falls. Fortunately, companies such as Safeguard Technology and SlipNOT Metal Safety Flooring have been developing products to improve the slip resistance of the rear riding step. Providing steps with adequate traction and making sure that employees are wearing proper footwear can help prevent slips and falls off of the rear step.
Next month in part two of this article, we will discuss falls from the top of a roll-off truck or transfer trailer while tarping or adjusting a load, as well as falls from the top of a compaction truck while cleaning or performing maintenance.
Bruce Hooker works for Seattle-based Mattei Insurance Services Inc.