Resolving to be safe

Columns - Editor’s Letter

Resolve to work safely in the year ahead.

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January 2, 2018
DeAnne Toto

For some, the start of a new year brings with it resolutions focused on self-improvement that range from getting in shape to improving work-life balance. As an industry, the waste and recycling sector has resolved for some time to improve the safety of its operations. According to statistics recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the industry appears to have followed through on that resolution in 2016.

According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fatalities in the public and private waste and recycling industry declined from 50 in 2015 to 42 in 2016. This was despite a 7 percent increase in overall workplace fatalities. According to the BLS’ Census of 2016 Fatal Occupational Injuries report, 5,190 workplace fatalities occurred in 2016, with the fatal injury rate increasing from 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2015 to 3.6 in 2016.

Transportation safety has been an issue championed by the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) for some time, and with good reason. Work injuries involving transportation incidents remained the most common fatal event overall in 2016, accounting for 40 percent (2,083) of overall fatalities. OSHA says 1 out of 4 fatal injuries arose from transportation incidents.

For the last three years, the NWRA’s work in this area has focused on “Slow Down to Get Around” legislation, which is now the law in 16 states and under consideration in several more. These laws require motorists to 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, stop for school buses and pull over for emergency vehicles.

"While the industry made modest safety improvements in 2016, it’s incumbent on all waste and recycling industry managers and workers to continue that progress in the years ahead.”

The NWRA notes that fatalities declined at landfills and material recovery facilities (MRFs) in 2016, according to the BLS report, while they remained the same in the waste collection industry. Refuse and recyclables collection fatalities also declined to 31, as did the fatal work injury rate (34.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers); however, this occupation retained its position at the fifth most dangerous industry.

Workers in the waste and recycling sector are confronted by a number of potential hazards every day at work, from conditions that could lead to falls, slips and trips to equipment that could take a limb or a life if not powered down correctly prior to servicing. Everyone plays a role in ensuring his or her colleagues go home without incident each day.

While the waste and recycling industry made modest safety improvements in 2016, it’s incumbent on all waste and recycling industry managers and workers to continue that progress in the years ahead. It’s a resolution that is worth making time and again.