- Fatality rates for refuse and recyclable material collectors increased in 2017, while the total number of fatalities declined to 30 from 31, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The occupation remained among the top-five most dangerous in the country.
- The broader "waste management and remediation services" category had 63 fatalities, down from 2016. Broken down by industry-specific job categories, this included 29 in solid waste collection, three at landfills, one at a WTE facility and four at MRFs.
- According to BLS, "transportation incidents" were the most common factor across all industry occupations, followed by "contact with objects and equipment," "falls, slips, trips" and "fire and explosions."
Overall, the U.S. saw a decline in both the number and frequency of fatalities in 2017 — 5,147 fatal injuries were reported at an incidence rate of 3.5 per 100,000. By comparison, the incidence rate for collection workers was 10 times that at 35.0.
The NWRA heralded this latest report as positive news in a press release.
“This should encourage our industry to continue its commitment to the organizational programs implemented over the past year to strengthen the culture of safety," said President and CEO Darrell Smith, adding the organization and its members "won’t stop looking for opportunities to improve and we will never accept any loss. Zero is possible."
In addition to touting the adoption of "Slow Down to Get Around" laws in 22 states, NWRA highlighted a series of regular initiatives it undertakes throughout the year to expand safety awareness. Vice President for Safety and Standards Kirk Sander was also quoted, emphasizing distracted driving caused by both vehicle technology and general inattentiveness. This topic of distracted driving has come up more frequently throughout 2018, as seen in work by the Together for Safer Roads coalition and other groups.
SWANA, on the other hand, had a different take on the role of distracted driving in these broader fatality trends.
"Distracted driving contributes to a small percentage of collection fatalities annually. In addition, our vehicles are involved in too many fatal incidents involving third-parties, including two in south Florida last Saturday," wrote CEO David Biderman via email.
Biderman also noted the association is "very concerned" about internal data showing nearly 50 solid waste-related fatalities in the U.S. through Dec. 15 of this year. This includes contract workers, long-haul truckers and contractors that may not be included in BLS data for the waste industry category.
In conclusion, he pledged that “SWANA will continue to be the industry leader on getting the waste collection industry off the list of 10 most dangerous jobs, and will partner with others to accomplish this objective. Nothing we do at SWANA is more important. Nothing.” In its own press release on the new report, SWANA also highlighted multiple initiatives underway such as the new Hauler Safety Outreach program.
Following November BLS data that showed injury rates remaining relatively steady for industry workers in 2017 — aside from an unexplained spike at MRFs — it's clear the industry still has significant room for improvement. As noted by SWANA, this includes taking precautions against causing harm to third parties as well as to employees.
While the dynamic and demanding nature of this work may make it difficult to ever achieve safety levels that are comparable to the average occupation, the need for continuous improvement and vigilance remains.