If you like learning about safety as much as I do, then the place to be last month was WasteExpo in Atlanta. The annual trade show for the solid waste and recycling industry was an overstocked buffet of information, products and services for solid waste managers and supervisors interested in reducing accidents and injuries.
Attendees interested in classroom training had a wide variety of safety-related educational programs to choose from. Whether they wanted to learn how to conduct a thorough accident investigation, reduce fleet-related claims, or create and sustain a positive safety culture at their company or sanitation department, WasteExpo provided numerous learning opportunities. In addition, the co-located Waste Training Institute (WTI) held a 90-minute program on effective driver safety programs (full disclosure: I was one of the WTI instructors).
In the exhibit hall, attendees had more than three dozen safety exhibitors to explore. These exhibitors ranged from personal protective equipment (PPE) providers and backup safety systems to driver simulators and sign and decal manufacturers. I have never seen more providers of high-visibility apparel on the WasteExpo show floor. Since PPE is often a helper's first line of defense on the route, I hope all of the PPE exhibitors got lots of orders!
The Environmental Industry Associations' (EIA) Safety Committee met at WasteExpo. In previous years, this meeting lasted little more than an hour and was attended by 20 to 25 people. Not this year.
The committee met for about two and a half hours and discussed new OSHA regulatory and enforcement initiatives, the FMCSA's CSA 2010 program (csa2010.fmcsa.dot.gov), recent solid waste fatality and injury data, and expanding the EIA safety awards to include disposal employees. In response to an increase in the frequency of helpers being struck by motorists, the committee also discussed how to expand the Slow Down to Get Around campaign. With motorists texting, using their cell phones or getting distracted by other items in their cars, the solid waste industry needs to both provide additional training to drivers and helpers and find new and innovative ways to educate motorists about the hazard they pose to our workers.
The need for better safety in the industry was, tragically, demonstrated by three fatal accidents that occurred during the week of WasteExpo. On Monday, a motorist was involved in a head-on collision with a garbage truck in northern Indiana. On Wednesday, a motorcyclist had a head-on collision with a garbage truck in Georgia. On Thursday, a municipal garbage truck rear-ended a stopped vehicle in southern Indiana, pushing the car into a flatbed truck. Sadly, this has become a typical week in the solid waste industry.
Although EIA, NSWMA and WASTEC are doing a good job helping the industry reduce its worker fatality and injury rates, the job is not nearly done. Many of the solid waste companies and sanitation departments in the United States did not send anyone to WasteExpo, or are not members of the associations. Hopefully, some of them read Waste Age and will be inspired to do something to reduce accidents involving their equipment and employees.
The work can be dangerous, and over the next few months, heat stress, which can be fatal, is a possibility. Make sure your workers have proper PPE, training, water and whatever else they need to stay safe on the job. You don't want to end up being referenced at a future WasteExpo as an example of an accident that could have been avoided.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.