While it is difficult to identify a single event or hazard as the waste and recycling industry's biggest safety concern, the most frequent type of claim in the industry continues to involve a backing collection vehicle, which comprises of about 25 percent of reported claims. The most common type of injury, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) logs, is musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive motion. This includes strains and sprains to shoulders and backs, and carpal tunnel syndrome, according to David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) based in Silver Spring, Md.
From a fatality perspective, the most common cause is the other motorist crossing into the path of the truck. This occurs due to distracted driving, bad driving and elderly motorists having medical issues while driving.
“For collection workers, avoiding being struck by these motorists is a significant concern, as between five and eight collection workers are killed each year by other vehicles,” says Biderman. “The increase in fires at landfills and recycling facilities may not be the biggest concern, but preventing them is of increasing importance as the cost of a facility being out of service is measured in the millions of dollars.”
Technology can help reduce the frequency of accidents and injuries in the waste industry. By adding cameras to locations other than behind the truck or by adding collision avoidance systems, employers are better able to provide drivers with tools they can use to avoid collisions with fixed objects and people. By adding in-cab cameras, employers can better monitor their drivers, reducing the frequency of improper behavior (like talking on a cellphone or texting).
“What every employer needs to have is an ongoing commitment to worker and public safety, and tools to communicate it to their supervisors and frontline employees, including drivers, helpers, heavy equipment operators, sorters and maintenance workers,” says Biderman.
In a blog posted on Rubicon Global’s website, David Rachelson, vice president of sustainability for the company said, “After years of resistance, the waste and recycling industry is beginning to embrace technological innovation as a driver for future success. The year 2018 will be a race to the finish line as old-world players scramble to catch up with innovations already underway.”
According to Biderman, the top safety technologies available to haulers and municipal sanitation departments include both newer systems, such as in-cab cameras/telematics, obstacle detection systems and drones, and more conventional devices such as side guards.
In-cab cameras, which provide cameras that face both through the front windshield and into the cab on the driver, monitor driver behavior and ensure that he or she is complying with applicable laws and company rules.
“When combined with telematics, which can inform the employer whether the truck is going too quickly, had a hard braking event or turned too sharply, they provide numerous coaching opportunities for employers with their employees,” says Biderman.
Obstacle detection systems supplement the driver's vision concerning what's around the truck. Large trucks such as waste and recycling collection trucks have blind spots, and these systems alert drivers to pedestrians, bicyclists and other things that they might not see.
“They are particularly helpful for when the truck is backing up,” says Biderman.
Drones have become used increasingly common at landfills for monitoring the facility and taking measurements. Instead of sending someone to walk on the landfill to collect readings from a dozen or more locations, a drone can do it, without placing a worker in harm’s way.
A side guard is a device on the side of the truck body that is used to prevent a pedestrian or bicyclist from being run over by a truck.
“While a ‘low tech’ system, it is certainly a safety technology and is in use by a growing number of waste collection companies in New York City and elsewhere,” says Biderman.
Rachelson said in the blog that the waste and recycling industry is making incredible strides in the development of robotics, machine learning and smart city technology.
“We can expect to see further advancement and real-world implementation of these innovations across the public and private sectors,” he said.
On the operational side, there will be greater efficiencies in navigation and route planning, automated invoicing and customer service. Data and reporting will advance with certified waste data from collection to the deposit site, including greenhouse gas reduction and diversion rate calculations, according to Rachelson.
“Critical infrastructure improvements will be made possible through advanced robotics and machine learning, enabling virtual waste assessments and better sorting at recycling facilities,” said Rachelson. “Fortunately, the Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling new technologies to work together, creating opportunities that will improve efficiency and cost savings, while teaching us about waste streams on both a micro and macro scale.”
But Biderman says that the industry cannot rely on technology alone to tackle safety concerns.
“When safety is a core value for all haulers and municipal sanitation departments, and we don't rely on the latest technology to rescue the industry from its subpar safety performance, we'll have fewer accidents, injuries, and claims as well as lower employee turnover and happier workers,” he says.