Surge in industry-related fatalities in 2019

SWANA calls the level of industry fatalities this year "unprecedented."

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To date, at least 17 fatal incidents have occurred relating to the solid waste industry in the U.S. and Canada in 2019, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) says in a recent press release. SWANA is calling for a renewed focus on safety in response what it calls an “unprecedented uptick in fatalities.” Although there is no common denominator for the cause of all these accidents, SWANA says, reviewing safety fundamentals now will likely help prevent future incidents.

“The surge in fatal incidents involving solid waste personnel and vehicles in January is unprecedented in my 20-plus years in the industry and is unacceptable,” says David Biderman, the executive director and CEO of SWANA. “Regardless of who was at fault, each incident is tragic, and we urge all solid waste employers and employees in the United States and Canada to review their safety procedures and operations and commit to being safer in 2019.”

SWANA says it urges solid waste employers and employees in the U.S. and Canada to share this data and review their training and operations to help put an end to this series of deaths.

“The frontline employees of Waste Management have a continued focus on protecting themselves by following our operating rules and accepting safety as our core value without compromise. Industry fatalities are shared by managers with employees to build knowledge and raise immediate awareness,” says Jeff Martin, the vice president of the Houston-based Waste Management. “Sadly, the majority of industry employees are injured or killed outside of their trucks. With the continued increase of distracted motorists, all employees must remain 100 percent focused 100 percent of the time while serving our communities. A longer-term solution is moving to automated side-load trucks to ensure the securement and overall protection of drivers keeping them in the cabs.”

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the 2017 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, identifying 30 fatalities among refuse and recyclable material collectors, making it the job with the fifth highest fatality rate in the U.S.

“Waste Connection’s first value is safety. The safety of our team members, customers and the communities we are privileged to work in, is of the utmost importance. As the societal distractions of cell phones, texting and mobile internet continue to create unsafe situations on the roadways we share, we will endeavor to raise the level of awareness to all unsafe behaviors and do our part to create safer roadways. We fully support SWANA’s initiative to eliminate unsafe behaviors from the waste industry and encourage all organizations to join us in supporting SWANA’s safety initiatives,” says Shawn Mandel, the vice president of Safety & Risk at Waste Connections, Ontario, Canada.

SWANA says the 17 industry-related deaths within the first 22 days of 2019 is a tragic reminder that the organization needs to keep pushing for a stronger commitment to safety from the industry, elected officials and the general public. SWANA says it will continue to focus on expanding its safety program with the goal of raising awareness and removing solid waste collection off the BLS’s list of most dangerous jobs.

“I share SWANA’s concern about the recent increase in fatal incidents involving waste collection vehicles. There have been two in New York already this year, and January isn’t even over yet. I will be working with other safety leaders in our chapter to provide additional safety resources and tools to members and non-members in the coming months,” says Paul Zambrotta, the safety director of Mr. T Carting of Brooklyn, New York. Zambrotta is the SWANA New York State chapter safety ambassador and a frequent speaker at industry safety events in New York City.

SWANA provides free resources on its Safety Matters webpage, which contains valuable tools for both collection and post-collection. SWANA will also host numerous safety events this year, including a live safety webinar at noon EST on Jan. 29. Safety issues will also be discussed at SWANApalooza in Boston, Massachusetts, Feb. 25-28, as well as at SWANA’s 7th Safety Summit at WASTECON in Phoenix Oct. 21-24.

For more information on SWANA’s safety programs, visit swana.org/safety.