The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its "2018 Employer-Reported Injury and Illness Report" showing the waste and recycling industry has major challenges in safety. Across the board, there were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2018, which occurred at a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. This represents no change from 2017.
The waste and recycling industry had an increased rate of 5.5 from 5.0 and a similar increase in solid waste collections from 5.0 to 5.5. The materials recovery facility (MRF) rate decreased significantly from 9.8 to 4.9. This reduction is welcomed at MRFs, but the National Waste & Recycling Association says it will continue its focus on safety.
BLS data for the waste and recycling sector show:
- NAICS code 562, Waste Collection, increased to a rate of 5.5.
- NAICS code 662111, Solid Waste Collection, increased from 5.1 to 5.5.
- NAICS code 56292, MRFs, decreased from 9.8 to 4.9.
- NAICS code 562112, Solid Waste Landfill, decreased from 5.3 to 3.9.
“The decrease at landfills and MRFs is promising, but today’s numbers show that we have yet to make real progress out on the roads where our collections workers face numerous hazards on a daily basis. We need to redouble our efforts and make sure that we are doing all that we can to protect our employees. The numbers today demonstrate that we have serious challenges ahead,” said NWRA President CEO Darrell Smith in a statement.
NWRA says it is committed to working with its members to make sure every one of its workers comes home safely each day. Thirty states have passed Slow Down to Get Around laws that help to protect drivers and helpers when collecting refuse. NWRA has urged the other 20 states and the District of Columbia to pass similar Slow Down to Get Around laws to protect not only waste collection workers but also tow truck drivers and other workers who work under amber lights.
NWRA adds it is leading the effort to reducing injuries and fatalities in the industry through engagement such as an alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), partnership with the Environmental Research and Education Foundation for a request for proposals to provide a baseline analysis for what is occurring in the industry and improving the safety message through the redesign of its weekly safety newsletter, Safety Monday.
David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), explains the recently released results from BLS don’t necessarily come as a surprise.
“SWANA is not surprised by the significant increase in injuries and illnesses involving solid waste collection workers reported by BLS, as it parallels the troubling increase in collection worker fatalities that SWANA’s data indicates occurred in 2018,” says Biderman. “We are, on the other hand, pleased by the reduction in the incident rate for landfill employees, which is now at its lowest point in several years.”
He adds that over the past year, SWANA has rolled out several new safety initiatives, including Hauler Safety Outreach events at landfills and other disposal facilities, at which SWANA chapters provide safety information to collection crews.
“This is a great and innovative way to get best practices into the hands of smaller companies that often do not have a safety director and are not members of any national solid waste association,” notes Biderman. “We invite companies to host these events in 2020 and help SWANA improve the safety performance of the industry.”
“The very significant decrease in the injury and illness rate at MRFs confirms that BLS’ data for 2017 was likely a statistical aberration,” he adds. “Given the challenges many MRFs faced last year due to the impact of National Sword, the improvement in MRF safety performance is a significant achievement. That said, with fires at recycling facilities on the increase, often sparked by lithium-ion batteries, recycling companies and others should not rest of their laurels. Fortunately, SWANA and others are working to develop resources and recommendations related to fires at disposal facilities, which will be available soon.”
According to BLS, there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2018, unchanged from 2017. These data are estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). The incidence rate for total recordable cases (TRC) in private industry also remained unchanged from a year ago.
This is the first year since 2012 that the TRC rate did not decline. The incidence rates for days away from work (DAFW) cases and for days of job transfer and restriction only cases did not change from 2017.
Other highlights from the 2018 BLS data include:
- Retail trade was the only private industry sector where the TRC rate increased in 2018, rising from 3.3 cases to 3.5 cases per 100 FTE workers. This was the first increase in the TRC rate in retail trade since the series began in 2003. Retail trade accounted for 14 percent of all injuries and illnesses in private industry in 2018.
- Within private industry, there were 900,380 injuries or illnesses that caused a worker to miss at least one day of work in 2018, essentially unchanged from 2017.
- Results from the 2018 SOII contain the first national estimates for emergency room (ER) and hospital visits for nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring DAFW. Estimates include case and demographic data elements such as industry, event and occupation.
- A total of 333,830 DAFW cases resulted in a visit to a medical facility such as an emergency room or in-patient hospital. Additional detail on these case types are available in the section on emergency room and hospital visits.
Retail Trade Sector Injury and Illness Cases
Both the number and rate of nonfatal cases in the private retail trade sector increased in 2018. The number increased 4 percent to 409,900 cases, and the incidence rate increased from 3.3 cases to 3.5 cases per 100 FTE workers. Within the retail trade sector, general merchandise stores reported 96,000 injury or illness cases; food and beverage stores reported 92,600 cases; motor vehicle and parts dealers reported 61,500 cases; and building material and garden supply stores reported 53,800 cases.
Of the 126,850 cases involving days away from work in retail trade in 2018, those resulting from falls, slips or trips increased to 34,190 cases, an increase of 11 percent from 2017. Cases resulting from contact with objects and equipment increased 10 percent in 2018 to 38,940 cases. These events had a higher rate for workers in the retail trade sector than for workers in private industry in 2018.
Injuries and illnesses in retail trade most often resulted from sprains, strains and tears, which accounted for 45,340, or 36 percent, of the DAFW cases in 2018. The DAFW incidence rate for sprains, strains and tears was 38.4 cases per 10,000 FTE workers, essentially the same as in 2017.
Seventeen percent, or 21,320, of DAFW cases reported in retail trade were the result of injuries to the back.
Within retail trade, 15 occupations had at least 1,000 DAFW cases in 2018. Injuries and illnesses to retail salespersons accounted for 20 percent of the DAFW cases in retail trade, increasing from 23,240 in 2017 to 25,600 in 2018. First-line supervisors of retail sales workers accounted for another 13 percent (15,940) of DAFW cases in retail trade in 2018, an increase of 25 percent from 2017.
Emergency Room and Hospital Visits
This is the first year estimates for medical treatment facility visits for nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring DAFW are available. Medical treatment facilities, based on definitions from OSHA, include facilities designated as an emergency room or an in-patient hospital facility. Urgent care facilities, health units (within an establishment), infirmaries and clinics are not considered an emergency room. The SOII categorizes medical treatment facility visits in the following way:
- Any medical treatment facility visit (emergency room visit and/or in-patient hospitalization)
- Emergency room visits only (excluding in-patient hospitalizations)
- All in-patient hospitalizations (with or without emergency room visits)
Of the 900,380 DAFW cases in private industry, 333,830 (37 percent) required a visit to a medical facility. Of these, 294,750 required a trip to the emergency room and did not require hospitalization, and 39,080 cases required in-patient hospitalization, either with or without an ER visit. The median number of days away from work for all private industry cases in 2018 was eight days. The median number of days away from work for ER visits only was seven days, and the median for in-patient hospitalization was 41 days.