U.S. waste and recycling industry fighting against fatalities and accidents

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Washington, DC, USA – The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its 2014 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, which details that refuse and recyclable material collectors, as a category ranked fifth among American workers, with a total of 27 fatalities, down from 33 in 2013. Despite this decrease, the rate of fatalities rose from 33 to 35.8 per 100,000 workers for the year.

After reaching a 12 year high in 2003, fatalities fell by more than half by 2007. Since then, fatalities have been trending upward. In response to these trends, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), which represents more than 800 private industry waste and recycling companies nationwide, has spearheaded a comprehensive industry-wide series of initiatives in concert with its member companies aimed at reducing fatalities, injuries and accidents. Only logging workers; fishers and related fishing workers; aircraft pilots and flight engineers; and roofers had higher fatality rates, according to the report. Workers such as electrical power-line installers and repairers; farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers; structural iron and steel workers; driver/sales workers and truck drivers; and first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers had lower fatality rates.

“Workers in our industry provide a vital public health and environmental service for every community nationwide and their safety is a shared responsibility of both their employer and residents in the communities they serve,” commented Sharon H. Kneiss, president and chief executive officer of NWRA. “The lower rate of fatalities shows that the collective safety efforts of the solid waste and recycling industry may be an indicator of positive progress, but the fact that the percentage rate of fatalities is up underscores the need for a continued relentless focus on lowering the rate of accidents, injuries and fatalities.”

Slow Down to Get Around

Over the past three years, NWRA and its chapters nationwide have successfully championed “Slow Down to Get Around” legislation, which is now the law in nine states and under consideration in several more. These laws require that motorists slow down when waste and recycling collection vehicles are stopped and workers are getting on and off, just as motorists are required to slow down in construction work zones, or stop for school buses, or pull over for emergency vehicles. A 2014 Harris survey conducted by NWRA found that an alarming number of motorists admitted to being tempted to actually speed around waste and collection vehicles, however, when the BLS data was shared with respondents, an overwhelming majority supported legislation to protect these workers.

“A majority of these fatalities could have been prevented, as these workers are struck by passing vehicles,” commented John Haudenshield, NWRA director of safety. “Whether it is driver apathy or distracted driving, or other factors, the leading safety voices representing companies across our industry have been engaged in a multi-year effort to ensure we have the practical tools and resources available to all of our members that will help us reverse these trends.”

Initiatives to improve safety for workers

In addition to championing Slow Down to Get Around legislation, NWRA and its members have undertaken numerous initiatives that represent a comprehensive approach to improving safety for workers in the waste and recycling industry, including:

  • Hosting safety seminars in cities nationwide for haulers, processors and other stakeholders in the waste and recycling collection process;
  • Development of safety manuals for use by drivers and workers in the industry;
  • Creation of the first-of-its-kind Driver Certification program for waste and recycling collection vehicle operators;
  • Temporary worker safety training;
  • Safety Monday, a bi-lingual poster sent each week with important practical tips to prevent accident and injury;
  • Commercial vehicle safety inspection briefings and demonstrations;
  • Online safety webinars and education sessions at industry conferences to promote sharing of best practices;
  • Championing Slow Down to Get Around, which is now the law in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin; and
  • NWRA serves as the ANSI standards-setting body covering the safe design, manufacture, maintenance and use of equipment used in the waste and recycling industry.

Source: National Waste & Recycling Association