Keeping Workers Safe

A perception exists in some quarters that waste is a dangerous business, and accidents are inevitable. However, industry members cannot afford to have such a passive attitude. Every injury is preventable, and firms have access to highly effective methods and equipment to help them manage employee safety.

Safety must be an industry-wide goal, and waste companies can achieve better success if they work together to identify effective safety solutions. Through information sharing and active participation in the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA), firms can reduce accidents and injuries in the future.

ANSI Standards

One step that waste companies can take to improve their workers' safety is to adhere to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) equipment and operational standards. In the 1970s, a group of industry representatives identified the need for a set of waste industry safety standards that would supplement the more general Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Working with ANSI, a NSWMA committee of manufacturers, users, unions, insurers, and private and public employees established a set of voluntary standards outlining the roles and responsibilities of manufacturers, employers and employees.

ANSI guidelines are designed to help reduce accidents and injuries, and companies will benefit from incorporating them into their safety programs. “The ANSI Z245 standards are much more useful to our industry than OSHA. The standards are specific to what we actually do,” says Ralph Ford, risk manager for Waste Industries USA Inc., Raleigh, N.C. “ANSI has made things more applicable and easier to understand.”

“We have based our new hire driver/helper training directly on the ANSI 245.1 — 1999 standard,“ says Chuck Blough, safety and compliance director for Fort Worth, Texas-based IESI Corp.'s Northeast Region. “It's a great place to start because it covers the basics of safety while working around waste vehicles.”

Trained, Prepared and Empowered

Training should be the cornerstone of any waste firm's safety program. Companies must establish a culture in which employees know about hazards that exist in their work environment and in which they are properly equipped to handle all situations, routine and non-routine. Because waste industry workers generally are not under direct supervision, management must take the lead by providing effective training, personal protective equipment (PPE) and incentives that encourage employees to take responsibility for their own safety.

Supervisors and managers should train their employees to do the following when they're on the job:

  • Assess. When dealing with any situation, a worker should ask the following questions: What could go wrong? If something did happen, what would be the results? What can I do to avoid potential incidents?

  • Analyze. An employee should determine whether he or she is adequately trained and properly equipped to deal with the results of an accident.

  • Act. If the worker is properly prepared and equipped to perform the task, he or she should take actions necessary to ensure the job is done safely. If not, the worker should not undertake the task.

Safety starts with buy-in from your entire workforce. Employees must be able to make safety decisions and participate in the entire process. “We empower our employees to say to each other, ‘What you're doing is unsafe, and we need to fix it,’” says Randy Peterson, environmental health and safety manager for Houston-based Recycle America Alliance's Eastern Area. He believes this encourages employees to take ownership and personal responsibility.

Evaluate and Re-evaluate

Once workers have been trained and safety procedures put in place, a company's management and supervisors should take an aggressive approach to ensuring that a safe working environment is being maintained. For instance, supervisors should observe employees during the course of their normal work day to make sure they are using equipment and practicing safe work habits.

Also, injuries should be carefully analyzed to determine if a firm's safety training program needs to be revised. A company should assess its safety policies and procedures on a regular basis — not just after an accident has occurred.

“You must evaluate your program regularly,” Blough says. “By looking at your loss runs, [and] observing and listening to your employees, you can identify potential weaknesses in your safety program and incorporate those findings into training, special safety equipment and other targeted solutions.”

Each Firm is Unique

There is nothing routine about the waste industry. Driving conditions change; employees handle different materials from one day to the next; and disposal sites vary according to content. The only constant is that there will always be waste.

Practical safety solutions require diligence and creativity on the part of management, supervisors and employees. Companies should remember that, despite the fact waste companies have much in common, each deals with special factors that require tailored solutions.

“We take a three-pronged approach,” says Jerry Peters, corporate OSHA compliance manager for Rumpke Consolidated Cos. “Do what you can to eliminate hazards; implement administrative controls, including training, education/mentoring and corrective actions; and use PPE as the last line of defense.”

Practical Tips — Equipment

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) accidents occur far too often, and LOTO violations are the most often cited OSHA violations for the industry. (OSHA's LOTO standard requires that a piece of equipment's energy source be de-energized, including blocking and bleeding, before maintenance or service is performed).

LOTO-related injuries are under complete human control and are preventable. Maintenance shop accidents often occur as a result of improper LOTO while repairing such equipment as front end loader top door and forks; working under suspended loads; performing brake adjustments; replacing and testing hydraulic cylinders; and repairing rear door seals.

For every vehicle it owns, a company should refer to manufacturer guidelines, establish a maintenance schedule and stick to it. Furthermore, when emergency repairs are performed, make sure they are properly completed and not rushed to get the vehicle back in operation.

Rear-End Loaders

Waste companies that use manual rear-end loaders should make their employees who ride on the vehicles adhere to the following guidelines (which are from ANSI Z245.1):

  • Don't ride on steps for farther than 1,000 feet (.2 miles).

  • Don't exceed 10 mph.

  • Don't ride on steps while the driver is backing the vehicle.

  • Don't ride on loading steps or entry/exit steps.

  • The driver should stop backing if he or she loses visual contact with the helper.

  • Stop two-sided pickup.

  • Wear visibility vests.

  • Step off only after the vehicle comes to a full stop.

  • Check road conditions; if they're not smooth, get in the cab.

  • Know where your blind spots are; use your mirrors and camera.

Furthermore, firms that use rear-end loaders for commercial routes should keep several safety tips in mind. Employees can be injured when attaching or dumping commercial containers to vehicles. Containers can swing around and pin an employee, and tipovers can occur when the load is too heavy. Be sure that employees know to secure the container to the waste truck, and train workers so that they position themselves away from the swing radius. Also, limit the amount of material in the containers.

Falling Off Vehicles

There are several practical tips that waste companies should follow to prevent their employees from falling off rolloff and front-end loader vehicles. For example, firms should use auto-tarpers, and their employees should tarp only at designated stations with stairways to both sides of the truck. Also, companies should incorporate cab/chassis interface into vehicle design to make it safer for employees to get where they need to.

“We try to keep people inside vehicles and off the ground as much as possible,” Ford says.


In addition to establishing safety procedures and guidelines for equipment, waste companies should design their routes with accident prevention in mind. Defensive routing helps reduce the potential for trucks and employees to be placed in hazardous situations. Defensive routing means that a route design minimizes backing, eliminates double siding and zigzagging, maintains a safe speed and eliminates unprotected left-hand turns through right-hand routing.

“We use coaching and defensive driving training,” says Robert Bartee, corporate director of safety for WCA Waste Corporation, Houston. “Our new trucks have rear-vision cameras and automated mirrors. We also try to steer toward maximum automation on the route.”

Waste companies also should perform route observations to ensure that employees are working safely, wearing seat belts and other PPE, and following procedures.

Installing safety devices also is important. Peters says Rumpke now purchases right-side drive cabs. “The worker doesn't exit into the roadway; they're lower to the ground; and there's one-step egress and exit,” he says. “We've also installed flood lighting on the right side of our trucks to help prevent trips and falls.”

Space Management

Accidents happen when people occupy the same space as vehicles or other types of moving equipment. By paying attention to the spacing at transfer stations, landfills, recycling facilities and maintenance shops, waste firms can increase employee safety. Companies should identify the danger zones in their facilities where accidents are likely to occur. That could include unloading/loading areas, tipping floors, push pits, material handling and storage areas, the landfill working face and the maintenance shop.

Once a company's supervisors have identified the danger zones, develop protocols for each that focus on maintaining adequate space between people and equipment while taking into consideration the following:

  • traffic flow;
  • pedestrians;
  • the location of a public drop-off;
  • the presence of spotters;
  • visibility vests;
  • whether the facility sorts materials;
  • supervision;
  • types of vehicles;
  • types of material; and
  • radio communication.

Let's Work Together

Waste companies can achieve better safety success if they work together to identify effective solutions. The “Slow Down to Get Around” public awareness campaign, which teaches drivers to slow down and keep a safe distance from waste collection workers, is one example of firms joining together for safety's sake.

The campaign — sponsored by Rumpke, Dodge Center, Minn.-based McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing and NSWMA — was launched after accidents resulted in the death of one Rumpke employee and severe injuries to a second. Both were caused by motorists. (For more information, visit the Rumpke and McNeilus Web sites.) “The industry now communicates more as a team than it has in the past,” Bartee says. “This creates a good environment for information sharing and learning from others' successes and mistakes.”

Susan Eppes is president of EST Solutions Inc., Houston. Jan Hester is director of marketing with the firm.

Want to Hear More on this Subject?

Susan Eppes, one of the co-authors of this article, will be a speaker in the “Practical Safety Tips for the Waste Industry” session at WasteExpo on Wednesday, April 5. The session, part of the Safety tract, will run from 3:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Take Note

The following is a list of ANSI's solid waste standards:

  • Mobile Wastes and Recyclable Materials Collection, Transportation, and Compaction Equipment Safety Requirements (ANSI/Z245.1-1999)

  • Stationary Compactors - Safety Requirements for Installation, Maintenance and Operation (ANSI/Z245.2-2004)

  • Stationary Compactors - Safety Requirements (ANSI/Z245.21 — 2004)

  • Waste Containers - Safety Requirements (ANSI/Z245.30-1999)

  • Facilities for the Processing of Commingled Recyclable Materials - Safety Requirements (ANSI/Z245.41-2004)

  • Baling Equipment - Safety Requirements for Installation, Maintenance and Operation (ANSI/Z245.5-2004)

  • Baling Equipment - Safety Requirements (ANSI/Z245.51-2004)

  • Waste Containers - Compatibility Dimensions (ANSI/Z245.60-1999)

For more information on the standards, visit the Waste Equipment Technology Association's Web site at