Safety First: A Full-Time Job

Staying safe requires a constant awareness of your surroundings.

As I started typing my first safety column of the year, I briefly considered writing something that safety managers, supervisors and others could use to inspire workers to reduce fatalities, injuries and accidents in 2010.

But you probably didn't receive this issue of Waste Age until late January, and maybe the Super Bowl in February was played before you actually read this column, so identifying “10 things to do in 2010” may not be timely. I don't know who's going to win the Super Bowl (it won't be the Redskins!), but you can bet that many in the industry and I will be watching “Undercover Boss” after the big game to see how Larry O'Donnell, Waste Management's president, does in his television series debut.

Two incidents involving my children during winter break were unpleasant reminders that “safety” isn't just a word for the workplace. Being safe starts when you wake up in the morning.

Late December and early January were unusually cold and snowy in much of the East and South (hope you bought orange juice futures!). My younger son spent much of his winter vacation inside and at one point stubbed his foot on a door. Although my instinct was simply to put ice on it and tape his swollen toe, my much smarter spouse decided a visit to a local urgent care center was needed. They determined he had broken his toe, but don't worry, he'll be running around like normal by the time you read this.

A more serious incident occurred on my older son's second day back to school in January. After school, he was walking across the school parking lot and was struck by a vehicle backing out of a parking space. Fortunately, the SUV was going very slowly, but my son fell over from the impact and was walking with a limp afterwards.

When he mentioned it to my much smarter spouse, and added that his back had started to hurt, she quickly took him to the urgent care center (too bad they didn't have a two-for-one special!). Luckily, all he had was a bruise and after some Advil and ice, he seemed fine.

This second incident allowed me to put my accident investigation hat on: what were you doing when the SUV hit you? (“Walking, duh.” Teenagers!). Were you texting? (He says he was holding his cell phone but wasn't reading or sending a text. I checked his phone, and he was telling the truth). Were you distracted by something else? (He says no). We discussed how important it is to pay attention to your surroundings, particularly when walking in a parking lot, and what he might do to avoid similar incidents in the future. Sound familiar?

Your company and local sanitation department probably had minor accidents in 2009. It is essential to investigate them properly to understand their root causes and explain to workers what they need to do to avoid future accidents. My family was lucky — both incidents were relatively minor, and my sons are okay. Many of you drive big garbage trucks on busy city streets and highways all day and night, and face a wide variety of workplace hazards. When someone loses their safety focus in that environment, or at a disposal facility, the consequences can be deadly. Remind your drivers, helpers and other workers of that fact, as often as possible.

This column contains several attempts at humor, but safety is no joke. Make a serious commitment to staying safe in 2010.

David Biderman is general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. He oversees the organization's safety programs.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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