Sometimes, when you know something is going to be so bad, you just don’t want to look. I’ve faced the situation many times in my previous career as a news reporter. Time and again I’ve had to overcome my reluctance and do my job.
For months now the solid waste industry has been aware of an increase in the number of job fatalities within the industry. But I personally wasn’t aware of the final numbers for 2018 until the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the 2018 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.
It shows that refuse and recyclable material collection is still the fifth deadliest job in the country. There were 57 on-the-job fatalities in 2018. That’s compared to 32 in 2017. The 78% increase is a sobering number.
The chart is from a Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) press release expressing SWANA’s reaction to the BLS report.
SWANA Executive Director and CEO, David Biderman, said, “The BLS 2018 fatality data for the industry is not surprising as we have been telling SWANA members and others in the industry that we had identified an increase in fatal accidents last year since we recorded 19 of them in January, 2018. The increased strength of the economy in 2018 may have played a role in the higher number of fatal accidents as volumes increased. Smaller private sector haulers have a disproportionate number of these tragic events and we encourage them to take full advantage of SWANA’s safety resources.”
In response to the uptick in early 2018, SWANA added new safety resources, including the rollout of its Hauler Safety Outreach program, during which SWANA chapters and their partners distribute safety materials at landfills and other disposal facilities. In late 2018, SWANA initiated its Safety Pledge, in which it asks drivers, heavy equipment operators, managers, and others to pledge to do their job safely.
National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) President and CEO, Darrell Smith, responded to the BLS census, saying, “The Association is saddened by the increase in fatalities in the industry. NWRA and our members are committed to improving safety in our industry and we will never accept any loss of life.”
NWRA’s Chief of Staff and Vice President for Safety and Standards, Kirk Sander, said, “Unfortunately NWRA was anticipating a rise in the fatality number; that is why we released a request for proposals in November to establish a baseline understanding of fatalities and injuries. NWRA realizes that concrete steps are needed to understand this crisis for all our workers to come home safely.”
Overcome your reluctance and look at the sharp increase on the chart. Let that information sink in.