August 14, 2015
Accidents in the waste and recycling industry are on the rise of late. That trend has got the attention the Washington-based National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). John Haudenshield, the association’s director of safety, and Chris Doherty, its vice president of communications, talked with Waste360 about the issues and what’s being done to address the problems in a two-part question-and-answer discussion. Part two is here.
Waste360: You’ve indicated that accidents and fatalities in the industry have spiked in recent weeks. Talk about what’s currently going on.
John Haudenshield: In relation specifically to incidents, we’ve got our data from our membership, on the safety committee this past year, and that’s the first time we’ve really been able to come out with a consensus, specifically for fatal incidents. This year, so far, year to date, is kind of modeling last year, where we have ... we’re tracking very similar to where we were last year as far as the number of fatal incidents throughout the year.
What we did learn is, last year, 2014, 70 percent of the fatal incidents happened in the last half of the year. … We’re starting into August, what we’re preparing ourselves for is, things we’ve put into place and hope to mitigate is this last half of the year (trend). I don’t know if this year will hold true to what we did last year. But we’d like to get ourselves positioned so that we can educate the public, we can educate our membership and the industry as a whole, and try to avoid what we did see over the last year and a half or so.
Chris Doherty: We were talking internally: why does it always trend to the second half of the year? I don’t think there’s anything anyone can point to, but it’s everything from back to school time, new kids getting their licenses, changes in the weather.
Whether it’s directly that a worker would benefit from safety regs, or safety training and safety awareness, it’s that public awareness that John just spoke about, these accidents in total are a mixture of whether it’s driver error, employee error, or the distracted driving issue, the distracted pedestrian. So overall, it’s pretty complex picture to (target).
John Haudenshield: I’d love to say there’s a sliver bullet, that if we could solve this one issue, then we could take care of it all. But unfortunately it’s a lot more complex than that.
Waste360: Is there other data showing how it spiked?
John Haudenshield: I did dice the data a little further in that I segregated our industry’s fatal incidents from the third party people month by month. And even though there’s a spike in August and September of fatal incidents within our industry personnel, that actually starts to drop back down (going into the fall). But the third-party folks continued to increase into December. So again, is that an indication of just distracted driving as a problem in our society? I think it is, because we see a lot of rear-end collisions. We see quite a few people who go left of center and head-on collisions where even our trucks’ not at fault. It’s a third-party incident.
Chris Doherty: In order to get the industry to share the data, it had to be done under very confidential terms because it’s such sensitive information. There’s insurance and legal ramifications. So we almost have two sets of data. The generally publicly available data, which is compelling and tells our story–and there’s a lag time with that data, because it takes BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) a long time to pull it all together. … Getting the members to share their specific data under those terms and conditions, has allowed for really frank and open discussion about what are the root causes, what can we do right away.
Waste360: Are you concerned that’s it’s a larger trend, going in a bad direction? With the distracted public, is it becoming a bigger challenge?
John Haudenshield: The question I’ve posed actually to the folks, because I present safety seminars to the industry, and I’ve done one every month this year. And one of the questions I’ve posed because as you mentioned, really over the last five years if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the last five years we’ve a gradual increase in fatalities within our industry. I posed that question and I get a lot of interesting points of view on it. Is it because we’re recycling more? A lot of companies, they’ll have trucks that collect recyclables and trucks that collect trash. We got more trucks on the road. Is that a contributing factor, that there’s more of our industry folks on the road? Is it because the economy’s improved gradually since 2007-2008? … Or, as we’ve also talked about, or is related to our distracted driving habits as a society?
One of the things you see probably as much if not more, you see more distracted driving. Pedestrians have always had some level of distraction, whether it’s reading a magazine, listening to music, but I think it’s become even more prevalent. You talk to people in urban areas, they have earphones in, they’re reading text messages, they’re looking at things on their mobile devices, walking across the street not paying attention to traffic patterns, just stepping off the walk into roadways. So are those types of things a problem? Absolutely.
Those are some of the things that I’ve been able to gather from people in our industry, and folks that have attended my seminars. Ideas of why we’ve seen this gradual increase. Our goal as a committee and using the feedback from the industry is to try to get us out of that top five, top ten most dangerous work places.
Waste360: Are you comfortable with the level of cooperation you are getting from the industry on sharing data?
John Haudenshield: It’s been pretty dramatic. I’m relatively new, I’ve only been here a year now, I’m not going to take all the credit for it by any means, but it’s a big hurdle to clear. A quick background on myself, I started out working in the trash industry for James Madison University fresh out of college. Then I went to scrap industry, so I have a little bit of understanding of how tight-knit this group of people is in the industry, although it’s a large industry, but a very tight knit group. Many, many people know each other. … It’s the same, East Coast, West Coast, North or South.
It’s important again to have that perspective and then have the drive and the initiatives come from the industry. … Our safety committee (has) very active and vocal members. As far as the level of cooperation level we’re getting, it’s fantastic. But we’re always looking for more, only because the more information we’re able to get the clearer the picture becomes.
It’s been very refreshing. And the people understand that we’re facing real challenges, and they want to become the solutions.
In part two, Haudenshield discusses how the industry and the association have been attacking the problem.