Distracted Drivers Pose Hazard to Waste & Recycling Workers

Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

April 6, 2015

4 Min Read
Distracted Drivers Pose Hazard to Waste & Recycling Workers

Safety leaders in the waste and recycling industry are talking about the danger inattentive drivers cause and what they can do to keep the sector’s drivers safe.

National Waste & Recycling Association Director of Safety John Haudenshield says that solid waste vehicles are struck by third party vehicles quite often, which is problematic because it could injure or potentially kill an employee collecting trash. But what’s worse, Haudenshield says, is sometimes the driver who rear-ends a truck does so because he is on the phone, not paying attention and not expecting the truck to stop.

“When it’s a 3,000- or 4,000-pound passenger vehicle hitting a 50,000- or 60,000-pound truck, typically the truck is alright,” he says. “The third party vehicle doesn’t fare so well. A lot of times there’s injury or even a fatality in these situations.”

(For more on this topic, there is a session at WasteExpo 2015 analyzing the effect of distracted drivers.)

The industry is unique in that it has large trucks on the road that often get hit, he says. Though Haudenshield admits the industry has done its fair share of the hitting, he says trash trucks get hit at a disproportionate rate compared to other types businesses, over the road trucks or even Fed Ex or UPS vehicles.

A recently released Harris Poll, commissioned by the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), shows drivers give little respect to garbage trucks and are more likely to speed around them than any other service vehicle.

Additionally, according to the survey results, fewer than one-in-ten Americans are even aware that garbage collection workers have a higher fatality rate compared to firefighters and police officers.

NWRA is focusing on educating the general public and finding ways to reach out in driver’s education classes and by supporting initiatives such as Slow Down to Get Around.

Jeff Martin, director of safety for Houston-based Waste Management Inc. says the company is talking to its workers about inattentive drivers—people texting or on the phone while at the wheel—because it’s a realization of the motoring public today.

“We see firsthand that distracted driving, whether it results in a collision or near collision, is very evident,” he says. “And in the meetings we have with our drivers, unfortunately what we’re hearing is that it’s getting worse than ever before.

 “That’s why we encourage our drivers and continuously promote that fact that they are looking far enough ahead to observe, identify and react accordingly to that driver in front of them or within the intersection who may be distracted or not fully focused on their driving so we can anticipate, reduce speed, etc,” he adds. “Because, at the end of the day, we want to be 100 percent defensive.”

Waste Management puts a lot of focus on the distracted driver during safety discussion with its own drivers. While it’s impossible to stop those inattentive drivers, looking ahead and anticipating their actions can help keep drivers on the defensive and out of harm’s way.

“It’s situational awareness,” he says. “Understand that there’s distracted driving out there, identifying it and taking actions to stay away, back off, reduce speed and understand that you have an out. It’s a real issue and it’s a common discussion amongst our drivers, but the good news is that for the most part our guys and gals are really doing a good job understanding what it is and understanding their responsibility and their role and how they can react to that.”

American Waste Control (AWC) Vice President Paul Ross agrees that defensive driving helps keep solid waste drivers safe.

“Our drivers are professionals,” says Ross. “They’re not on the phone when they’re driving. They’re not texting. They’re not emailing. They’re professional drivers and they’re keeping their eyes on the road.”

Ross says the Tulsa-based company supports education and legislation to help encourage the public to become more professional drivers, just like AWC drivers.

“We are in favor of legislation, education and advocacy to help educate the general public to slow down to get around, pay attention when you’re coming upon traffic,” he says. “Get off your phone and focus on the road. … It’s dangerous. That vehicle that you’re in is a weapon and can be used that way especially if you’re not paying attention.”

AWC drivers are given the resources and the training so they can anticipate what that inattentive driver might do. Each line of the AWC business, which includes roll-offs, front- and rear-load, residential and service trucks, holds monthly safety meetings where employees role play, watch videos and have lively discussions.

“We believe in safety and we require it. But more than that, it’s a part of who we are,” Ross says.

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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