Waste Management adding 'buffer' truck in Texas after worker fatality
- Waste Management will begin running a container delivery truck with a trailer behind one of its collection vehicles in Orange, Texas to serve as a protective "buffer" for workers on a specific "high risk" route. This comes after a 28-year-old collection worker was fatally struck behind his vehicle in Nov. 2018, as reported by The Orange Leader.
- According to a recent presentation at the Orange City Council, the plan will take effect Feb. 1. Waste Management is also changing the collection times for about 50 accounts on this route to service them together earlier in the morning.
- "Given the avoidable tragedy in November when a car impacted our truck leading to the senseless loss of Derrick Cane, the local operations team developed a near-term solution to mitigate safety concerns given this busy roadway. This solution is aimed to safely service our customers in this area, while enabling our team to safely service the impacted routes," said Jeff Martin, vice president of safety services, in a statement to Waste Dive.
Because this particular route in Orange includes a state highway with higher speed limits, it is relatively unique compared to quieter residential areas. Waste Management declined to specify whether a similar buffer method has also been used in other markets, though the move was surprising to at least one industry group.
“This is a very unusual and aggressive response to this tragic incident, and demonstrates Waste Management’s strong commitment to worker safety," wrote SWANA CEO David Biderman via email.
Cane was pinned against the back of his truck by another car. According to the latest reports, an investigation is still ongoing, and the 18-year-old driver of that car has not been charged. Such incidents serve as a sobering reminder of how challenging it can be to maintain safe conditions for collection workers in the face of external variables.
In his statement, Waste Management's Martin emphasized the need for greater awareness from the public, pointing to one factor that has become a rallying cry for industry associations and companies.
"While it is uncertain of the exact events that led to Derrick’s loss, it is a fact that there is a nationwide epidemic of distracted driving. It is a serious, concerning and growing problem."
In its own statement, the NWRA echoed the troubling nature of this incident and the need to mitigate driving distractions caused by phone or vehicle technology. Greater consideration of collection service in roadway design was also raised.
"NWRA also calls on America’s civil engineers to think about the entire life cycle of their designs, including the often forgotten about process of removing trash. This tragedy could be prevented," wrote Kirk Sander, vice president of safety and standards. "NWRA encourages the use of the hierarchy of controls to eliminate the hazard and supports Waste Management's use of engineering controls by implementing a second vehicle to reduce the hazard."
Waste Management told Waste Dive that solutions vary regionally, but protecting workers through appropriate equipment and training is a bedrock nationwide priority. An ongoing conversion to automated side-load trucks is said to be one overarching solution, as it allows workers to stay inside their vehicles, but that isn't currently an option in every market. The company also cited the Slow Down to Get Around legislation, now enacted in 23 states, as a priority.
Collection workers have the fifth most fatal job in the country — 10 times the national average — according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Follow Cole Rosengren on Twitter