Technology Can Play a Vital Role in Improving Waste & Recycling Safety

Megan Greenwalt, Freelance writer

March 24, 2015

3 Min Read
Technology Can Play a Vital Role in Improving Waste & Recycling Safety

Advances in technology have proven to be effective for creating comprehensive safety programs and promoting driver awareness within the waste and recycling industry.

Jeremy O'Brien, P.E., BCEE, director of applied research for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), in Silver Spring, Md., says one of the most effective technological advances adopted by the industry in the past 30 years that has reduced accidents and improved worker safety is the use of automated waste collection vehicles.

“These vehicles allow the collector to stay inside the vehicle during the waste collection process,” he says. “Since the waste container is mechanically lifted and emptied into the truck, they also eliminate lifting injuries which historically were very common.”

More recent technologies that have improved safety include vehicle GPS tracking and inspection systems and high-definition camera systems that record data and have removable storage.

“In this regard, SWANA promotes the utilization of any technology that can improve collector and citizen safety,” O’Brien says.

Jessica Mayorga, spokesperson for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), based in Washington, D.C., says the use of in-cab cameras and exterior vehicle cameras and sensors represent valuable safety technological innovations in the industry.

“We have seen many companies grow their safety efforts by using the data from these technologies for driver training and to help all of their employees become better prepared to be safe while on the job,” she says.

NWRA’s safety committee is currently preparing to incorporate vehicle safety technology, such as in-cab cameras, backing cameras and sensors, as an industry best practice in the 2016 revision of its safety manual.

Hauler best practices

Phoenix-based Republic Services uses the data collected by the DriveSafe technology, an AWTI camera system, to coach drivers and mitigate the risk of accidents. The company has a number of different technology-driven safety devices including backup cameras, backup sensors, and enhanced trucks lighting that have been in place for years.

“Technology enhancements have been great for the industry, however, they must be implemented in conjunction with behavior-based safety programs, safety training, and a company commitment to a strong safety culture,” says Jim Olson, vice president of safety and environmental compliance for Republic Services.

Through its use of safety technology, Republic has experienced improved driver safety and behavior changes in defensive driving, as well as assisting in defense of not at-fault accidents.

Larry Stone, corporate safety director for Waste Pro USA in Longwood, Fla., agrees that safety technology is only effective as long as the company has comprehensive coaching and training programs to complement it.

“Anytime you’re talking safety there’s a crossover from human resources to operations because if they are not working hand-in-hand, neither one of them will be effective,” he says. “When you put all of these things together, the one factor that stays constant is the human element.”

Stone, who has been in the waste industry for almost 50 years, says it does not matter which system is being used, the effectiveness of that system is how well employees can be coached, encouraged and trained.

“All of these different applications are devices that allow you to better train your employees,” he says.

Waste Pro USA takes a broad brush approach to safety technology by using multiple platforms, including the AWTI camera technology and Fleetmatics GPS tracking. Stone says that over the course of his career, he has seen about a 25 percent increase in driver safety just through the use of GPS devices.

Houston-based Waste Management uses the Lytx DriveCam camera system in about 17,000 of its collection vehicles. Jeff Martin, vice president of Waste Management’s safety services, says the company also uses the technology as a learning tool for its drivers.

“Much like professional or collegiate athletes, Waste Management’s culture is to use the coaching and development technology to further the ‘complete service professional’ mindset,” Martin says. “Coaching effectiveness and trust are essential to success, so Waste Management uses the opportunities to provide recognition and accountability with focus on safety, service and route plans.

“Drivers, or ‘industrial athletes’ deserve to be treated as professionals and to their credit, they eagerly accept the opportunities to improve their safe driving skills,” Martin says. 

About the Author(s)

Megan Greenwalt

Freelance writer, Waste360

Megan Greenwalt is a freelance writer based in Youngstown, Ohio, covering collection & transfer and technology for Waste360. She also is the marketing and communications advisor for a property preservation company in Valley View, Ohio, and a member of the Public Relations Society of America. Prior to her current roles, Greenwalt served as the associate editor of Waste & Recycling News for three years and as features editor for a local newspaper in Warren, Ohio, for more than five years. Greenwalt is a 2002 graduate of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism.

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