Collection Safety: Know The Risks And Stay Alive

Every day in the United States, approximately 128,000 sanitation workers put themselves at risk as they take to the darkened streets. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 22 sanitation workers were killed while on duty in 1994, including nine who were hit by an automobile. BLS stats also show that in 1993, more than 2,200 sanitation workers were injured on the job, 61 of whom were struck by a car.

In addition to the human toll, accidents are costly for the employer in terms of lost productivity and liability. In 1994, for example, 4.24 work days were lost for every 100 employees working in the sanitation industry due to occupational injury or illness, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).

BLS' statistics for this same year show that transportation incidents were the cause of 42 percent of all workplace fatalities, 6 percent of which involved a worker being struck by a vehicle.

The Price While it is difficult to put a price tag on each injury or death, NSC estimates that the total cost of all workplace deaths and disabling injuries in 1994 was $120.7 billion, including wage and productivity losses, medical expenses and employer costs. In addition, the National Council on Compensation Insurance reports that, for the most mature policy period available, the sanitation industry alone lost more than $66.3 million in indemnity and medical costs due to workplace deaths and disabling injuries.

The Safety Factor Safety is a major concern in all areas of the industry, but particularly in collection. Working in and around trucks and compaction bodies is hazardous enough, but when you add in the danger of not being seen by on-coming traffic, the overall risks increase dramatically.

Like most companies in the industry, Waste Management Inc. (WMI), Oak Brook, Ill., had workers on the job during low-visibility hours. Although these employees had previously been issued safety vests with reflective material, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Association, some workers were not wearing the vests because they felt they were bulky and uncomfortable.

In the fall of 1988, WMI began an optional "Enhanced Visibility" program - a subset of the company's larger, overall safety program - which used the uncomfortable vests as a staple safety measure. Not surprising, participation in the program was not as extensive. As a result, WMI felt compelled to make participation mandatory in July 1996.

Dave Malter, WMI's director of health and safety, said that though the reflective safety vests were integrated into the company's uniforms, the employees were taking the vests off just prior to going out on their rounds. The reason, Malter adds, is that the safety vests were a hindrance to workers who were lifting and working near levers, gears and other equipment.

Back To The Drawing Board Realizing the importance of worker moral, as well as safety, the company decided to try another angle. WMI began working with a uniform manufacturer, Uniforms To You & Company, to incorporate a reflective trim, as well as a reflective company logo, produced by 3M, St. Paul, Minn., into the workers' uniform design.

As a result, WMI's Enhanced Visibility Program introduced the new uniforms. Currently, the program requires that the company's approximately 25,000 employees wear the new reflective uniforms if they work on or near the roadways, especially during times of low visibility.

The uniforms' reflective material is measured by its candlepower, or "candelas"; high brightness is approximately 450 candelas per lux per square meter.

To achieve the optimal amount of visibility, both at night and during the day, protective apparel typically will incorporate both fluorescent and retroreflective materials.