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A Year Later—COVID-19’s Impact on Safety

A Year Later—COVID-19’s Impact on Safety

Over the past year, the waste and recycling industry has undoubtedly seen many changes, from the way we collect materials, to the way we process materials, to the way we stay safe on the job. For example, the industry has increased its use of personal protective equipment (PPE), ramped up cleaning measures in facilities and fleets and developed new and improved safety procedures.

At the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), we have helped support many of those efforts and more by securing the industry’s essential status, publishing safety guidelines for picking up waste related to COVID, holding weekly safety meetings to discuss industrywide issues and developing many other resources that can be found here. While these are all important and notable actions, what will the data show as related to the industry, and how did COVID change the industry? Will we see a reduction in commercial vehicle crashes? Will injuries be reduced?

The National Safety Council’s preliminary estimates show that total motor vehicle deaths increased 8 percent from 39,107 in 2019 to 42,060 in 2020. This is in contrast to a 13 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled, which is reflected in the number of people working from home and students learning from home.

As a result of more people staying home, we have seen an increase in solid waste generated by households. In response to this uptick in residential materials, our members have been working hard to keep up with the demand of their residential routes, and roll-off companies have tackled the materials generated via various spring cleaning and home renovation projects.

While our fleets are still on the streets each week ensuring waste and recyclables are collected, fewer personal vehicles are on the road. So, will we see a decrease in commercial vehicle incidents? Will we see less vehicle-related incidents and injuries? Will heightened safety messages related to distracted driving and COVID-19 result in a safer working environment?

In order to understand what the data says and use that data to identify areas of improvement, associations such as NWRA need to have accurate data that reflects the market. This fall will be telling as the various government agencies release their 2020 data, which NWRA will then analyze to see what our industry can learn from the year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we await that data, we encourage you to remind your drivers that the streets will begin to slowly return to normal as restrictions get lifted across the U.S., and traffic will become heavier. In addition to more vehicles making their way back onto the roadways, there will be the return of pedestrians and bicyclists. Despite these changes, we must remain alert and focused to keep ourselves safe and to keep other roadway users safe.

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