According to a new report by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), at least 59 solid waste industry workers died on the job in 2018 in both the United States and Canada, an increase of 19 fatalities from 2017. Fifty-seven of these fatalities took place in the United States, and 71 percent of these fatalities occurred during waste or recycling collection.
While reviewing data collected from various sources, SWANA found that struck-by incidents were the most common cause of fatality overall, followed by collisions and rollover incidents. These incidents represented nearly 50 percent of all worker deaths. About 10 percent of victims were on the riding step when the fatality occurred. The causes of deaths at landfills, materials recovery facilities and transfer stations were more diverse than in collection, though being struck by heavy machinery or lockout/tagout failures were common.
“The industry’s safety record in 2018 was not acceptable, with at least 19 more worker fatalities than in 2017,” said David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA, in a statement. “Most of last year’s increase involved collection workers, despite the industry’s success in getting states to pass Slow Down to Get Around laws and efforts by SWANA and others to improve safety on the route, as well as at post-collection facilities.”
“SWANA calls on local governments, private companies and others to devote more resources to safety and protecting the lives of those who work in the industry,” added Biderman.
Fatalities among members of the public increased slightly in 2018, from 95 to 101 deaths. These incidents involved the solid waste industry in some fashion, most frequently via a traffic collision with a collection vehicle. About three-quarters of the victims were drivers or passengers at the time, and about 14 percent were on a motorcycle or bicycle. Pedestrian deaths represented another 11 percent of all fatalities involving a member of the public.
Including both workers and members of the public, January had the most fatalities in 2018, with 19 for the month, followed by March, with 18 for the month. September and November were the only two months where more solid waste workers were killed than members of the public.
“The 2018 data are of concern to our Safety Ambassadors throughout the United States and Canada,” said Matt Morales, Arizona SWANA Chapter safety ambassador and Cinder Lake Landfill project manager, in a statement. “While it is difficult to learn of the increased fatalities, it strengthens our dedication to turning the industry around. It’s obvious that we need to increase our effectiveness on this matter. We need more ‘real-time’ data on trending accidents and incidents in our states, regions and provinces. SWANA’s Arizona Chapter is forming an alliance with the Arizona Department of Safety and Health to provide members with more readily available access to trends. Having access to this data will allow us to keep our eyes on the windshield rather than looking through the rearview mirror.”
“To increase awareness and accountability, SWANA Safety Ambassadors are tasked with bringing safety training events to our drivers,” added Morales. “SWANA Chapters are holding Hauler Safety Outreach events in their states and provinces. These events provide the chance for us to reach out to both private haulers and municipal collection operators. Importantly, it helps them know that we care about them. Finally, the event is unique because each attendee is given the opportunity to take the SWANA Safety Pledge. For operators, the pledge is a demonstration that SWANA stands behind their efforts to be safe out on the road.”
SWANA provides a variety of safety resources to its members throughout both the United States and Canada. These include its award-winning, chapter-based Safety Ambassador program, new Slow Down to Get Around stickers, frequent safety training events and Hauler Safety Outreach at disposal sites.
On April 28, SWANA will honor the men and women who have died on the job during Workers Memorial Day. During this time, SWANA will reflect not only on those who have lost their lives but also on how it can help keep the hundreds of thousands who work in the industry safe. SWANA asks all solid waste professionals across North America to join the many others who have already committed “to help everyone get home safe every single day” and take the SWANA Safety Pledge. Together, we can do better, and as Biderman often says, “nothing we do at SWANA is more important.”