It isn’t easy to impress the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but I think the solid waste industry did so last month.
OSHA is concerned about fatal backing accidents involving employees. According to OSHA, about 80 workers were killed in these incidents between 2006 and 2010. The federal safety agency held a “stake-holder” meeting in Washington and invited several industry representatives, including your humble safety columnist, to participate. Stakeholder meetings are one of the ways that OSHA collects information as it decides how to address a specific workplace safety issue.
There were about 25 people around the table. In addition to the two of us from the solid waste and recycling industry, two representatives from companies that market backing accident prevention systems to the industry participated. Other industry representatives were in the audience.
Because backing accidents are the most common type of accident involving a solid waste or recycling vehicle for most companies, the solid waste and recycling industry has devoted substantial energy and resources toward preventing them. We shared our knowledge with OSHA and the other attendees at the meeting. We acknowledged there is no “magic solution,” and that training, technology, avoiding rushing, sensible routing and wearing high-visibility apparel all play important roles in preventing backing accidents.
We also noted that small companies appear to have a disproportionate number of the fatal backing accidents involving workers in our industry and discussed how to reach out to these companies and their employees. (Hopefully some of them read Waste Age!) While we noted that even a single fatal accident is one too many, we highlighted the fact that the frequency of these incidents in the industry has declined recently to, on average, about three fatal backing accidents annually for a fleet of approximately 140,000 vehicles.
OSHA was very interested in our data and invited staff from the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) to meet with them to further discuss workplace backing hazards. OSHA held several additional stakeholder meetings this month in Texas and will then consider regulatory and non-regulatory options.
NSWMA and the Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) remain committed to reducing accidents and injuries involving solid waste equipment, vehicles, and personnel, and will meet with anyone – including OSHA – in our ongoing effort to improve safety in the solid waste and recycling industry.