Let's Not Roll

JUST BY LOOKING AT A REFUSE TRUCK, it is hard to imagine that anything besides a fire could cause it serious damage. Yet, there is something else that can — rollover accidents (a.k.a. vehicle overturn accidents).

The considerable weight of most waste industry vehicles often means that the vehicles suffer very little damage when they collide with cars or light trucks. However, that weight tends to work against the waste vehicle should the truck roll over. Furthermore, a waste truck driver is more likely to die from a rollover accident than any other type of vehicle accident.

Rollover accidents can be classified into three types: speed-related accidents, which occur on public roads while the vehicle is negotiating curves or ramps; soft-ground-related accidents, which occur while the vehicle is moving at very low speeds or is stopped while dumping; and running-off-the-road accidents, which happen when the vehicle leaves the roadway and subsequently rolls over.

Speed-related rollover accidents are caused by drivers taking curves, turns and, especially, on-ramps and off-ramps at the posted speed limits, which are meant for cars and not for top-heavy refuse vehicles. Rushing to complete work tasks may play a role in speed-related accidents. Adverse weather conditions such as rain, snow or ice also can contribute to rollover accidents on ramps and curves.

A number of vehicle rollovers in the waste industry are soft-ground rollover accidents, which occur mainly at landfills and frequently involve transfer trailers. However, soft-ground rollovers can happen to any type of waste industry vehicle once it leaves firm pavement. Waste trucks also can roll over when drivers pull off the road onto a soft shoulder.

The potential for a serious rollover accident also occurs when a waste vehicle runs off the road. These incidents can occur when a driver falls asleep at the wheel, swerves to avoid animals in the road or when a distraction in the cab causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Even if the waste truck should veer off the road just slightly, a rollover still may occur if the driver tries to return to the roadway too quickly with sharp steering movements.

To significantly reduce the risk of rollover accidents, fleets should take the following precautions:

  • Establish a written company policy that makes drivers aware that the posted speeds on curves and exit and entrance ramps are meant for automobiles and that waste trucks must operate at speeds at least 30 percent below the posted speed limits in those areas.

  • Establish a written company policy that requires drivers to check roll-off boxes and transfer trailers for uneven or unbalanced loads before they attempt to haul the box or trailer. Drivers should contact a supervisor when in doubt about a load's safety.

  • Establish a written company policy that prohibits or greatly limits behind-the-wheel activities, which can distract the driver, such as eating, using cell phones and map reading.

  • Conduct safety meetings and training sessions for drivers to make sure that everyone is familiar with the company safety policies on preventing rollover accidents and behind-the-wheel distractions.

  • Establish a program of clandestine driver observations and/or supervisor ride-alongs with drivers to make sure that safety policies are being followed.

  • Frequently remind drivers of the importance of preventing rollover accidents. This can be accomplished with bulletin board messages, paycheck stuffers, reminders during driver safety meetings and periodic announcements over the radio.

  • Make sure that springs and other suspension components on all vehicles are maintained and are working properly. Remind drivers that springs and other suspension components must be checked during daily pre- and post-trip inspections and that defects must be reported in writing.

  • Make safety performance and compliance with safety policies part of drivers' performance reviews and part of safety incentives and bonus programs.