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Safety First

Safety is Scientific

In my role as a professor at Georgetown University, I try to provide lessons that my students will carry with them throughout their lives, and I try to make these lessons simple and straightforward.

For example, I encourage students to wear sunscreen and sunglasses whenever they are spending time in the sun. Energy from the sun’s rays is so strong that, if exposed, the human body’s own natural protective mechanisms cannot provide adequate defense. Ophthalmologists warn that too much exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun raises the risks of eye diseases, including cataracts and cancer. But we aren’t only vulnerable to UV damage during the summer: in the winter, strong exposure to the sun’s reflection on snow can also cause the temporary but painful condition of snow blindness.

Sun exposure causes most of the skin changes that we think of as a normal part of aging, but it also causes skin cancer—the most prevalent form of all cancers in the United States—with UV radiation as its number one cause. Sadly, I’ve known people who have died of skin cancer. I tell my students that UV-related issues can be attributed to the principles of physics, which determine the way chemicals work.

Physics also determines the way that the human body responds to outside forces. One of physics’ guiding principles is that force is equal to mass times acceleration (F=MA). Basically, it’s a very simple premise: if something very large—say, a garbage truck—runs into something small—say, a person—the large thing always comes out on top, and the person always comes out on the bad end of the equation. The waste and recycling industry experiences this phenomenon firsthand all too often at landfills and transfer stations.

Just recently, a man was crushed by the gate of a garbage truck in a work-related accident at a transfer station. He was helping a driver unload his truck. The truck’s lift gate was raised and its cargo was being unloaded when the truck pulled forward and lowered the lift gate. The victim was caught between the rear of the truck and the lift gate when the gate lowered, crushing him.

We need to protect our workers against such tragic accidents by separating people from machines. So, with input from our members, the National Waste & Recycling Association’s (NW&RA) safety transfer station subcommittee has developed some simple rules to ensure that our industry’s workers are protected from the laws of physics on worksites. The proposed rules are as follows:

  • Personal protective equipment is required, including hardhats and high-visibility vests and other clothing.
  • All of the vehicles within the tipping area should maintain a minimum of 15 ft. from other vehicles and heavy equipment, if possible.
  • The minimum spacing distance for an end dump/tractor trailer is the length of the trailer plus 10 ft.
  • When parking in the tipping area, the cab of a vehicle must be even with the cabs of other vehicles, not staggered.
  • Only the driver is allowed out of the truck in the tipping area.
  • Everyone must stay within 6 ft. of the vehicle.
  • No salvaging or scavenging is allowed.
  • Drivers must follow posted speed limit signs.
  • The directions of site personnel must always be followed.

We hope that the waste and recycling industry will adopt the NW&RA’s guidelines to govern work at all worksites where people and machines have to deal with the unstoppable laws of physics. Let’s use these simple principles, developed by industry professionals, to safeguard our workers.  

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