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February 4, 2020

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Waste industry sees increase in fatalities

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released its 2018 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, which reveals that the waste management and remediation services profession accounted for 95 deaths in 2018 compared with 63 in 2017.

Waste management and remediation services is the term that encompasses waste collection, waste treatment and disposal, remediation and other waste management professions. Waste collection saw 65 deaths in 2018 compared with 10 in waste treatment and disposal and 20 in remediation and other waste management services.

Refuse and recyclables collection remains the fifth-deadliest job in the U.S. Collection workers suffered 57 on-the-job fatalities compared with 32 in 2017—a 78 percent increase. Solid waste landfills had three deaths in 2018 compared with six in 2017, while material recovery facilities (MRFs) had three employee deaths.

“The BLS 2018 fatality data for the industry is not surprising, as we have been telling SWANA (Solid Waste Association of North America) members and others in the industry that we had identified an increase in fatal incidents last year since we recorded 19 of them in January 2018,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman says. “The increased strength of the economy in 2018 may have played a role in the higher number of fatal incidents, as volumes increased. Smaller private sector haulers have a disproportionate number of these tragic events, and we encourage them to take advantage of SWANA’s safety resources.”

“We are disappointed to see such an increase in solid waste collection worker fatalities in 2018 but remain resolute in our efforts to turn it around,” says Dennis Batts, emergency operations and safety program manager for the Fairfax County, Virginia, Division of Solid Waste and SWANA safety committee vice chair. “We will continue to rally together to make this industry and its workers safer—and efforts like SWANA’s Hauler Safety Outreach Program and the National Alliance signed in September 2019 between the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Waste & Recycling Association and SWANA will help to focus those efforts on the risks that pose the greatest danger to solid waste employees and the public they serve,” Batts adds.