Don't Let Up

Those of Us Who Spend Our Work Days behind a desk or in front of a computer leave for our jobs each morning secure in the belief that we will return home that evening safely and soundly. For us, the most hazardous task of the day may be maneuvering safely through the early morning stampede to the office coffee machine.

For solid waste employees, however, it's a different story. Their day often is fraught with peril. Whether it's operating a baler or trying to collect residential trash cans while in the middle of heavy traffic, theirs is a dangerous way to make a living — and the statistics bear that out. For years, the industry has battled high annual fatality rates.

However, some recent numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that the industry's increased emphasis on safety may be paying off. According to the bureau, there were 18 reported workplace fatalities for “refuse and recyclable material collectors” in 2007, down from 37 in 2006. Therefore, the fatality rate for the collectors declined from fifth-highest in the country in 2006 to ninth-highest last year. (For more on the BLS report and how haulers are improving their workers' safety, see “The Safety Dance” on p. 6.)

While many in the industry will understandably welcome the news, it is no time to ease up on emphasizing safety. Even with the decline, the industry still ranks among the most dangerous in the country.

Furthermore, in a National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) press release highlighting the improved numbers, David Biderman, the organization's general counsel and safety manager, says, “Although the decline in workplace fatalities is welcome, there have been a number of fatalities involving municipal solid waste collectors in 2008, and there has been an increase in struck-by accidents.”

So, how can company executives and department heads go about making their employees safer? For starters, NSWMA has a number of safety resources available to industry members. For a full overview, visit and click on the “Safety” link.

NSWMA's “Slow Down to Get Around” campaign urges motorists to drive with due caution when maneuvering around collection vehicles. To obtain free copies of “Slow Down to Get Around” ads for broadcast on local radio and television stations, contact Biderman at (202) 364-3743 or [email protected]. Free truck decals promoting the campaign are available by e-mailing [email protected] or calling (859) 331-3733.

Remember, safety begins with awareness, from residents to employees. Ultimately, though, safety begins at the top with an organized effort to keep everyone on their toes. NSWMA is ready to help you get started. Contact them now, like someone's life depended on it.

Stephen Ursery
The author is the editor of Waste Age