After Irma, safety remains highest priority for collection crews in Florida
- Curbside collection has resumed in many Florida communities after Hurricane Irma raked the state, with companies ensuring their crews are on high alert for safety hazards. Waste Management has shifted operating hours in certain areas so drivers are only working in daylight to improve visibility, according to state communications director Dawn McCormick. This is especially important because many street lights still aren't working due to power outages.
- Downed power lines, standing water, low hanging tree limbs or debris blocking roadways are also top concerns for all companies. "Essentially, if we can't service a street or neighborhood safely, we will wait until it is clear and safe to do so," Tony Emilio, municipal services director for FCC Environmental Services, wrote via email.
- In addition to reviewing safety procedures and urging caution, companies are also focused on the general well-being of their crews. "Our safety team reminded our local managers that like them, their team members have been through a very stressful time. Our managers are monitoring our drivers, helpers, operators, and facility staff for potential fatigue and exhaustion. It is a team effort and the safety of all our team members and the communities we serve is paramount," said Mark Nighbor, Advanced Disposal's vice president of marketing and communications, in a statement.
The process of cleaning up after Irma in the multiple states and U.S. territories affected will take months. As foreshadowed by Hurricane Harvey and many storms before it, this will involve vast amounts of debris and millions of dollars worth of special contracts. In the meantime, the generation of standard curbside waste and recyclables continues unabated. With the exception of the badly damaged Florida Keys and other areas with heavy flooding, curbside service has largely returned at various levels throughout the state.
Basic procedures such as wearing personal protective equipment, lifting properly, backing up safely and maintaining alertness while driving are already requirements for the commercial and municipal crews servicing these routes. Though repetition is key for all safety guidance. In some cases, employees may have had to temporarily evacuate their homes, or at the very least, have lost some sleep. Contending with the usual job hazards is already challenging. Contending with potential electrocution, exposure to bacteria or snakes takes those challenges to another level.
Because each weather-related disaster has its own unique effects, companies must be prepared to adapt. In some cases, they may even have to do this when their national headquarters has been damaged or affected by employee displacement — as seen recently with Waste Management in Texas and Advanced Disposal in Florida. Having plans in place with the communities they service helps that process, but without ground-level employees those plans can't be carried out.
It's not uncommon for the days after a storm to be equally as dangerous for workers and residents. Industry-specific resources are available from the Solid Waste Association of North America. More general information is also available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Keeping this guidance in mind, and maintaining communication with employees, can help ensure the job of waste collection doesn't become any more dangerous than usual.
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