IT WASN’T TOO long ago that the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) reported that there was a disturbing increase in the number of waste worker fatalities in 2018 compared to the previous year. 59 solid waste industry workers were killed on the job. That’s 19 more deaths than in 2017. 71% of last year’s fatalities occurred during waste or recycling collection.
SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman said, “Most of last year’s increase involved collection workers, despite the industry’s success in getting states to pass Slow Down to Get Around laws and efforts by SWANA and others to improve safety on the route, as well as at post-collection facilities. SWANA calls on local governments, private companies, and others to devote more resources to safety and protecting the lives of those who work in the industry.”
To David Biderman’s credit, hehas overseen numerous efforts to improve safety in the industry. Just about every angle has been approached, from award programs to safety pledges, SafetyFirst Slow Down to Get Around stickers to Safety Summits, from safety events to training.
For this issue, you can find our guest editorial in our online edition. Group editor John Trotti is offering a slightly different, slightly more defined safety perspective on which to focus in his latest “The Trotti Files” titled, “Where Stops the Buck?” John writes about an incident in which a collection truck had seemingly ignored safety barriers at a rail crossing and was hit by the oncoming train. Several factors contributed to the fatal collision between locomotive and collection truck, but he says let’s lay some fault on the people in charge.
“To me the real issue has its roots farther up the food chain, first to the hauling company and then—and most particularly so—to the agency that let the contract, in both cases for their insufficient oversight of the waste collection and hauling operations.
“The idea that a hauling company operating Class 8 trucks does not know the requirements of federal regulations at 49 CFR Parts 40 and 382 regarding the use of controlled substances as well as random testing protocols seems pretty far-fetched. While the absence of regularly established safety meetings and lack of written policies and procedures for hiring and training employees are not actionable offenses, they would seem to contravene good sense.
“But as for the contracting agency, the same cannot be said. The responsibility for public health and safety on its part is absolute and it is not enough to suggest that the ball is in someone else’s court with the mere stroke of a pen. Oversight is the mandatory first step in carrying out that responsibility and while today’s legal and employee union realities may limit truly effective actions on their part, public agencies must remain engaged in the performance of all of their own and their contractors’ activities…most especially those in which safety is a factor.”
John’s perspective comes from being a Vietnam-era Marine fighter pilot in which safety practices were demanded by those in command. In a “my-way-or-the-highway” culture, subordinates knew they would be out of a job if they didn’t follow safety protocols.
You can find the full Trotti Files at http://bit.ly/JTROTTI.