Safety in the spotlight with numerous 'Slow Down' bills, more public attention
This story has been updated to include South Carolina in the list of states considering SDTGA legislation.
- "Slow Down to Get Around" legislation is currently under active discussion in at least five states, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association's (NWRA) most recent weekly board report. These bills are at various stages in Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Kansas and South Carolina, and being supported by multiple organizations including the Solid Waste Association of North America
- The industry is also recognizing 2018's first week-long "Safety Stand Down," which is focused on vehicle backing. Participating companies are asked to conduct a risk assessment and policy review of their backing operations, post program materials in the workplace and provide employ education sessions on the issue.
- Further adding to this safety conversation is the 50th anniversary of the 1,300-person Memphis strike that was spurred by the death of two sanitation workers in 1968. The men were crushed in the back of a collection vehicle when its compactor malfunctioned. This was commemorated by an industrywide moment of silence on Feb. 1, as reported by Waste 360.
Conditions may have improved for many workers since 1968, but the industry safety conversation remains as relevant as ever. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that 31 collection workers died on the job in 2016 and the occupation remains the fifth-most dangerous nationwide. Injury rates were also up for workers at landfills and material recovery facilities.
So far, 2018 has been off to a particularly troubling start with at least seven industry-related fatalities so far. This includes the high-profile Amtrak collision incident in Virginia on Jan. 31 and the death of a Recology employee in San Francisco on Feb. 12.
The topic also got a surprise flash of attention over the weekend with a New York Times editorial about the Memphis anniversary and how it relates to working conditions in New York today. While the piece initially stirred up insider reaction due to data errors, it was later corrected and author Carl Zimring has since issued an explanation for the mistake on his personal website.
Zimring's piece also touched on thornier issues for industry associations and their members, such as unionization and wages. Activists with Fight for $15 and the Poor People's Campaign commemorated the strike with a 500-person march in Memphis on Feb. 12. This particular aspect of the Memphis remembrance hasn't attracted any industry acknowledgment so far.
While the safety discussion can quickly become complicated by the necessary questions around wages and equity, it also has the potential to unify disparate interests. At the very least, consensus can be reached on the fact that extra attention for the working conditions and dignity of industry workers is a good thing.
By standardizing seemingly simple policies, such as vehicle backing or right-of-way regulations on the road, the industry can start to see more of the progress it needs while also addressing that fact. With Slow Down to Get Around or expanded "Move Over" laws now on the books in more than a dozen states, the legislative momentum is at least trending in a positive direction.
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