State legislators in Wisconsin have introduced a bill to protect waste workers in the state, with the backing the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).
The “Slow Down to Get Around” bill would double the fines for moving violations committed while going around sanitation trucks, according to a news release from state Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown), who introduced the bill. It is co-sponsored by the state Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee).
Jagler authored the bill following an accident that happened to one of his constituents, Mark Friend, a sanitation worker. Friend lost a leg after being pinned between a vehicle and a waste truck while emptying a trash container.
The proposed legislation “is a big deal because if Wisconsin passes the bill it will be second state after Michigan to enact legislation that provides for enhanced penalties for motorists that strike sanitation workers,” says David Biderman, general counsel and director, safety for the NSWMA in an interview.
He says the NSWMA is going to look to expand the impact of the Wisconsin bill as much as it can. “We’re hopeful they’ll pass the bill, and we are going to explore opportunities to promote such legislation in other states.”
Biderman says the NSWMA has been very active federally by getting the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Washington-based agencies, to recognize the NSWMA’s slow down to get around safety program and endorse it in various ways.
“That clearly hasn’t eliminated this hazard,” he says. “We need to do more on the state level, including enhanced penalties for drivers who strike motorists.”
Biderman hopes that safety awareness can come more naturally. “It shouldn’t take a significant accident like this to get state legislatures to pass these types of laws or get motorists to drive more carefully around sanitation workers.”
The NSWMA is planning a public awareness campaign in Wisconsin, including signs for the back of waste vehicles, reminding drivers about fines doubling if the legislation passes.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has supported the Slow Down to Get Around message. “We certainly in favor of state and local legislation such as the Wisconsin bill that enforces safe driving practices around solid waste and recycling trucks,” said John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Silver Spring, Md.-based organization, in an e-mail response about the bill.
Jagler said that Friend told him of the dangers faced by sanitation workers months before his own accident, and Jagler promised to look into ways to improve conditions. “After very nearly losing his life and undergoing nearly two dozen surgeries, Mark called me to remind me of the promise I made,” Jagler said. “I immediately started working on this bill.”
The bill would double the minimum and maximum forfeitures for certain speeding and reckless driving violations committed in areas where sanitation workers are at risk.
“Just as the doubling of fines in construction zones serves as a reminder for drivers that they need to use extra caution, my hope is this bill encourage drivers to be more safety-conscious when garbage crews are working,” Jagler said.
Michigan passed its law in 2009. The law requires drivers to slow down to a safe speed when it nears and passes a stationary solid waste collection vehicle, as well as a utility service or road maintenance vehicle. Most violations are considered a felony.
The law came about after a Michigan worker for Houston-based Waste Management Inc. was killed by a vehicle. Lansing, Mich.-based Granger Waste Services was actively involved in getting the law passed. A brother of the worker who was killed worked for Granger, “so it was very close to home,” says Skip Losey, safety and operations manager for the company.
“We were just thankful to get it passed,” Losey says. The widow of the victim also played a big role in getting the bill passed, and it had state police backing. “It was a long process but it got done and that’s what was important; to get it written and on the books.”
Losey says he hasn’t heard since the law was passed if it’s been used in any cases. For Granger, which does hauling and operates landfills and landfill gas-to-energy operations, “we haven’t had to use it, so we’re thankful for that.”