The waste collection, processing and disposal industry is generally known to have a higher than average rate of worker accidents and injuries. Thus, waste companies and municipal sanitation departments typically spend a great deal of time, effort and money on safety-related matters. Whether on the collection route, inside a material recovery facility or transfer station, or at a landfill, most waste entities are making safety training and employee supervision a priority.
However, there is one area of operations within all of these areas that leads to a large number of accidents and injury claims, yet often does not receive the safety attention that it deserves – maintenance personnel.
Most waste operations have a garage or shop that that is responsible for maintenance and repair of their vehicles, mobile equipment and machinery. These shops typically will have a number of mechanics that are working around, under, in and on top of waste trucks, heavy equipment and processing machinery. By the very nature of this work, these mechanics are exposed to variety of hazards each day that could result in a serious or fatal accident. While these hazards are too numerous to list in their entirety, several deserve extra attention due to their potential for causing harm.
Hazardous Energy – Maintenance personnel are exposed to hazardous energy in a number of forms. The electrical energy supplied to a baler, and the stored gravitational energy of a raised tailgate or hoist on a waste truck are a few examples. Exposure to hazardous energy is a leading cause of on-the-job death for maintenance personnel. For this reason, every waste entity should make sure that they are in full compliance with OSHA regulations regarding hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) and appropriate employee training has taken place.
Falls from Heights – Whether servicing a conveyor on an overhead sorting line, performing maintenance to a door on top of a front-load truck, or working near an open lube pit, maintenance personnel are often exposed to falls from heights. Falls can lead to broken bones, paralysis or even death. Safety managers need to ensure that lube pits are protected, and that all persons who are working at heights are provided with and adequate fall protection and are properly trained on its use.
Vehicle Accidents – Whether it’s test-driving a truck, making a parts run or traveling around a landfill in a company vehicle, maintenance personnel are exposed to injury and death from vehicle accidents. Therefore it is wise for safety managers to include the maintenance staff in their fleet safety program. Additionally, mandatory polices requiring seatbelt usage and prohibiting cell phone use behind the wheel can help protect maintenance personnel when they are operating or riding in vehicles.
Eye Injuries – Maintenance personnel are often involved in activities such as grinding, cutting and welding, and they also are exposed to solvents and other fluids that could squirt or slosh back at them. While most maintenance workers know to wear appropriate eye and face protection while grinding or welding, their eyes are often left unprotected during other activities that could result in an eye injury. Requiring maintenance personnel to wear eye protection at all times, and providing adequate eye wash stations will go a long way in helping save the eyesight of these employees.
Slip and Fall or Trip and Fall – Grease or other spilled fluids on the floor can lead to a slip and fall accident. Likewise, debris or other clutter on the floor can lead to a trip and fall accident. Whether it’s the condition of the floor in the maintenance shop or condition of the floor around a machine that is being serviced in the production area, housekeeping is key to preventing these types of accidents. Waiting for the end of the shift to perform cleaning and routine housekeeping is often inadequate to maintain safe working conditions. Grease and spilled fluids need to be cleaned up immediately. Debris removal and general work area straightening should take place periodically throughout the day.
Respiratory Hazards – Many illnesses and diseases are associated with the inhalation of hazardous airborne contaminants. Maintenance workers often are exposed to these contaminants in a number of ways, which can include exhaust fumes from trucks or equipment, vapors from solvents and paints, fumes from welding, and hazardous dust to name a few. Waste entities should address this exposure through adequate ventilation of areas exposed to fumes and by providing proper respiratory protection and training for maintenance personnel.
Maintenance personnel are a vital part of any waste company or municipal sanitation department, as they keep the vehicles, equipment and machinery up and running. In order for this important task to take place, these waste entities must make sure that these maintenance personnel remain safe and healthy.
Bruce Hooker works for Seattle-based Mattei Insurance Services Inc.