Inside the NWRA's Efforts to Increase Road Safety

Allan Gerlat, News Editor

August 17, 2015

8 Min Read
Inside the NWRA's Efforts to Increase Road Safety

A recent spike in road accidents involving waste and recycling workers has served as a call to action for the industry. The Washington-based National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) has mounted an effort to respond and act to ensure industry safety.

On Friday, we looked at the root causes of the spike in accidents and how the NWRA has gathered data and assessed the situation. In part two of our interview, John Haudenshield, the association’s director of safety, talked with Waste360 about the issues and what’s being done to address the problem.

Waste360: What’s being done to address these spikes in fatalities and accidents, whether it’s seasonal or part of a larger trend?

John Haudenshield: The unfortunate reality is we really need to engage the public to understand our trucks do stop in the middle of the road to pick up trash. If you’re not paying attention and you crash into a 60,000-pound truck with an average car, that’s going to be a serious accident. And a lot of times the real serious damage isn’t occurring on the trash trucks.

So these are the types of things we’re looking to do. We’re working with not only our safety committee but we’re trying to engage with our safety committee outside resources, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance that works closely with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. We are reaching out to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and try to engage the representatives from them, which they’ve been very receptive to. We’re also reaching out to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. So we’re looking for some outside expertise. A lot of our members do “touch-a-truck” events where they take their trucks out to these events where kids can go see them and get some hands-on approach. We’re also looking at ways through the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to enhance driver education.

Last year, we did the study where we saw 38 percent of the drivers on the road are tempted to speed around the trash truck. And a large percentage of that was young drivers, drivers 18-34 years old. So if we can engage driver education with our industry, then hopefully we can start making some progress.

We’ve just had several governors sign slow down to get around laws. So now we’re up to nine states that have enacted slow down to get around. I live in Maryland, and now I’m seeing billboards that talk about how Maryland laws say you have to stay three feet away from a bicyclist on the highway.

Those are the types of campaigns we’re going to be working on for our specific issue. Wisconsin is where we started to ask “how can we can we do some of the billboards through the Department of Transportation, and when people are sitting at the (Motor Vehicle Administration) to renew their registration, for example, having slow-down messaging. So it’s a multipronged sort of continuum. The safety committee is driving what the priorities are, we develop the training, we’ve got legislative initiatives that our chapters are working on, we’ve got a public awareness component and we’re reaching out to all the third parties I mentioned, and we have a dialogue going on with AT&T as well because they have an anti-texting campaign. So, we might bring in AT&T’s expert to speak to the industry about what they’re doing and how we can incorporate our messaging about slowing down to get around garbage trucks into what AT&T is sending their customers.

So really, it’s a multipronged problem that we’re trying to deliver multipronged solutions to.

Waste360: What other initiatives is the NWRA working on?

John Haudenshield: With our industrywide safety committee, the focus over the past couple of years is being driven by our members. We have three subcommittees – one for collection, one for recycling, and then a third for landfills and transfer stations. We’re adding a working group for distracted driving - that’s something we’re organizing presently, reaching out to folks outside the industry like AT&T, reaching out to insurance and highway safety trying to get some exterior eyes on this problem. We started in July this year having a phone call geared directly toward the fatal incidents that occur in our industry and try to come up with solutions: How can we prevent these types of things from happening?

We cleared a big hurdle in November of last year by getting agreement amongst the members of the committee to share this type of information, in an anonymous fashion, where NWRA can gather the data, analyze it, aggregate it and then report back to the membership what some of the trends look like. This way, member companies don’t have to worry about revealing sensitive information.

We’re looking for more participation in that, so we can gather as much data as possible and make that data set much more accurate. Our goal is just to have more timely data than what the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) provides. BLS data is great, but there’s often a two-year lag time on it, so if we want to react quickly, we need to have more current data, and having the cooperation amongst industry really helps that. On top of that, we have our safe driver certification, we conduct safety seminars around the country, and we provide Safety Monday newsletter safety tips to all of our members.

The fact that we are member-driven, and that the members acknowledge sharing that data and information would help them make quicker decisions in terms of what tools were necessary to get into the marketplace, rather than waiting for BLS to come out with older data that leaves a lot of questions, it’s that active dialogue amongst thought leaders in our membership that has let us get driver certification up and running. There’s also an issue of temporary workers, and getting them training and safety knowledge.

Waste360: Is the public, as such a large group, really a bigger challenge than the industry itself when it comes to getting the word out?

John Haudenshield: Slow Down to Get Around laws have been in effect in Wisconsin for two years, but a lot of motorists still aren’t aware of it. So we’ve used Wisconsin as a test to go back to the state legislator (who championed it) and say, “can we get your help in reaching out to the Motor Vehicle Administration?” and to the Department of Public Instruction, which is the state Board of Education in Wisconsin, in terms of “what can we do to get our messaging out with teen drivers?” What can we do to get those flashing billboards that you see on the highway all the time that if you “see something say something”, or “click-it or ticket” for seatbelts, to incorporate our messaging through those mediums.

The Harris survey data that we have from late 2014 show that a high percentage of drivers admitted they actually speed up to get around a truck, because they think it’s an inconvenience. They don’t view it as exercising caution like stopping for a school bus, and they’re conditioned to pull over when they see an ambulance pull by, or first responders going up the highway.

The good part of that data is in that survey once the consumers were told this is a dangerous profession, riskier than police or firefighters, then over 90 percent of them were in favor of laws that would address this. It really just speaks to public lack of awareness, not through any sinister means, but then you throw in distracted driving, the statistics on distracted driving alone and even distracted walking leading to pedestrian deaths. Those accidents are increasing.

Waste360: Is it a particular challenge to reach out to the smaller guys that maybe don’t have the resources of the big guys?

John Haudenshield: A large goal of mine is to address and to reach out to the smaller companies, for that very reason. They don’t always have the resources that a larger company has. Let us be that resource. We have training available. Certification is available. We have information gleaned from our expertise in the industry and our partnership with larger companies and other associated entities like the CVSA. We’ve drafted legislative issues, so let us be that resource for you. I know what it’s like to work for a smaller company, and a lot of these folks wear multiple hats, so our goal is to be that that subject matter expert for them, to help them. And for our larger members, they are very happy to help a smaller member. They’ve got no qualms about saying they’ve got information and they’re facing same problems. They want to help you find the solutions.

One of our members, Larry Stone with WastePro, a large company based in Florida, extended an invitation to a very small company that has only three trucks. You’re both in Florida and you’re looking at direct competitors, but he extended an invitation to the owner of that company, saying “Hey, come through our driver training that we do with our drivers. And maybe you can learn something to take back to your people.” So that’s the type of cooperation that actually is available within our membership. I think we’ve found that our members, big or small, they put their competitive differences aside when it comes to an issue like safety.

We’re just trying to get that word out. The more people that are driven to that education and training, it’s addressing the data that’s been collected, and that’s where the rubber meets the road. 

About the Author(s)

Allan Gerlat

News Editor, Waste360

Allan Gerlat joined the Waste360 staff in September 2011 as news editor. He was the editor of Waste & Recycling News for the first 16 years of its history, and under his guidance the publication won 27 national and regional awards.

Before Waste & Recycling News, Allan worked at another Crain Communications publication, Rubber & Plastics News, which covers rubber product manufacturing. He began with the publication as associate editor and eventually became managing editor, a position he held for nine years.

Allan is a graduate of Ohio University, where he earned a BS in journalism. He is based in Sagamore Hills, in northeast Ohio.

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