The federal bureau of labor statistics (BLS) has issued its annual review of the previous year's workplace fatalities — and the results contain both bad and good news for the solid waste industry. In 2005, 5,702 workplace deaths occurred in the United States, a decline from 5,764 on-the-job fatalities in 2004. Nevertheless, for the second consecutive year, BLS identified elevated fatality rates for those it categorized as “refuse and recyclable material collectors.”
Waste collectors suffered 32 fatalities in 2005, with a fatality rate of 43.8 per 100,000 employees. The number of fatalities represents a small decline from 2004, though the rate was slightly higher than the previous year.
The number of fatalities and injuries in solid waste collection remains stubbornly high, despite efforts by many companies and organizations in the industry to reduce safety hazards. Susan Eppes, of Houston-based EST Solutions, does safety-consulting work for the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and companies in the waste industry. She notes that an increasing percentage of collection-related fatalities appear to be caused by other motorists colliding with workers near trucks and cites the Ohio fatality in December 2004 that lead to development of the Slow Down to Get Around program.
The BLS report does contain some good news for the industry: There was a more than 50 percent decline in landfill fatalities in 2005 compared to 2004, although the number of fatalities at transfer stations appears to have increased slightly. NSWMA has developed safety videos addressing both landfill and transfer station safety issues, which can be found at www.nswma.org. BLS's 2005 report on workplace fatalities is available at www.bls.gov. The agency will release a report on 2005 workplace injuries later this year.
Meanwhile, in June, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notified about 300 solid waste industry workplaces that they have elevated injury and illness rates. OSHA sent letters to workplaces with DART (days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer) rates above 12.0 per 100 full-time employees in 2004. The national DART average for all employers is 2.5.
The number of solid waste industry workplaces on the OSHA “high hazard” list in 2004 was higher than in 2003. Companies on the list have a higher probability of being inspected by OSHA.
OSHA is encouraging employers to take advantage of free safety and health consultation services provided by the administration or state safety agencies. Some employers are concerned that if an OSHA consultant makes a safety suggestion that is not implemented and a subsequent inspection occurs, the employer will be found liable for a “willful” violation, resulting in a higher fine. Additional information on OSHA's consultation program is available at www.osha.gov.
BLS 2005 Fatality Report
Rate per 10,000 employees