Over the past month, there has been a significant increase in the number of fatal incidents involving solid waste collection vehicles and employees. Since March 14, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is aware of at least 16 fatal incidents in the United States resulting in 18 fatalities, including eight in which a solid waste employee has been killed. SWANA recognizes that many workers may be concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and that increased residential volume and operational changes may be disrupting routines and impacting productivity. However, even during this challenging period, it is essential for solid waste collection workers to comply with applicable safety rules, including:
- Wearing a safety belt
- Never being on the riding step when a truck is backing
- Never using a cell phone when truck is moving
- Always wearing personal protective equipment
- Complying with speed limit and other traffic laws
Some of the fatal incidents that have occurred over the past three weeks were due to not following these basic safety rules. These safety recommendations are part of SWANA’s 5 to Stay Alive initiative, which provides guidance to solid waste and recycling employees who work in collection, transfer stations, materials recovery facilities, landfills, composting and waste-to-energy facilities.
"SWANA had observed a notable decrease in fatal incidents in the first two months of 2020 compared to the past two years, but starting in mid-March, we have seen a rapid increase in the frequency of these tragic events. This coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic," said David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA, in a statement. "Although solid waste workers are legitimately concerned about their health and the health of their families, they need to be safety-focused on the route and in post-collection operations."
"We remain diligent with all safety aspects of the job now with the added safety features of latex gloves and masks," said Sal Mastriani, director of risk management at Interstate Waste Services, in a statement. "Our team has responded impressively. Although we are troubled about an increase in fatal incidents nationally, we are fortunate that our incidents have decreased. In addition, I would urge everyone to keep an eye out for emotional stress and elevated anxiety among frontline workers, which may have contributed to some of the recent collisions others have seen."
Since March 14, fatal incidents involving solid waste collection vehicles and personnel have occurred in Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Though recent events have shown there is a real need for better safety training and implementation, many organizations have excellent programs worth emulating. That is why SWANA is proud to recognize these industry leaders through its 2020 SWANA Safety Awards, now accepting submissions through June 26.