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Injury Rate Drops for Collections Workers but Rises at MRFs, Landfills

The injury rate fell to 4.0 per 100 full time workers, down from 4.5 in 2015 and 5.1 in 2014.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its 2016 Workplace Injury and Illness Data, which showed a decline in total recordable cases for waste management and remediation services. The numbers were mixed when looking at subcategories, but overall the two main associations for the industry were encouraged by the results.

The rate of total recordable cases of workplace injury and illness in the waste management and remediation services category fell to 4.0 per 100 full time workers, down from 4.5 in 2015 and 5.1 in 2014.

For solid waste collection employees, the rate fell to 5.2, down from 6.6 in 2015 and 7.1 in 2014. In fact, it's the lowest level in more than a decade.

For landfill workers, the rate rose to 4.9 per 100 full time workers, up from 3.5 in 2015 and consistent with 4.9 in 2014. For solid waste combustors and incinerators the rate fell to 1.0, down from 2.0 in 2015 and 3.4 in 2014. At materials recovery facilities (MRFs), however, the rate was 6.0, up from 5.1 in 2015 and down from 8.4 in 2014.

“For solid waste collection, it’s down year to year, but historically as well. So that’s exciting news,” says David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). “At the same time, there’s an increase in frequency at landfills and at MRFs…. So there’s more work to be done. It’s not an opportunity for the industry to rest on its laurels and do a victory lap. We all need to recommit to make a safe working environment a top priority.”

Biderman attributed the lower rate among collections workers to safety initiatives in the industry as well as increased automation, which has decreased some of the hazards. But MRFs may need to be an area of focus, even if in the long-term view the injury rate is down from peak years.

"I would say it’s a huge deal that solid waste collection rate went down more than 21 percent in one year," says Bret Biggers, director of statistics and standards for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA). "For the injuries to go down this much I think is an indication of some of the things we’re doing at the association."

In terms of injury rates at landfills and MRFs, Biggers says NWRA is working on American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines for safer operation. 

Nationally, the report indicates a downward trend of incidence rates across all industries, with the total recordable cases for private industry down to 2.9 cases per 100 full time workers in 2016, down from 3.0 in 2015 and 3.2 in 2014.

The number of cases that involved lost work days ticked up to 2.6 for the waste management and remediation services, which was up from 1.9. While an increase from 2015, it’s a lower rate than previous years.

The rate is significant because the cases that involve lost work days are generally more serious cases.

For solid waste collection, the rate fell from 4.6 in 2015 to 3.4 in 2016. But MRFs made the list of top 25 industries with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, restricted work, or job transfer, with a rate of 4.5. 

For solid waste landfill, the rate also rose from 2.3 per 100 full time workers in 2015 to 3.3 in 2016.

SWANA says it will be rolling out new safety initiatives in 2018 to provide additional resources for public and private sector employers and employees throughout the U.S. and Canada and continues to support “Slow Down To Get Around” safety efforts.

NWRA, meanwhile, has continued its program of safety standdowns, "Safety Mondays," its board of trustees has put out a strategic directive to focus on safety in the industry and professional development series events.

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