Sanitation Worker Hazards and Safety

Silver Spring, MD – The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) released it’s 2017 solid waste industry fatality data with 132 recorded fatalities – an 18 percent increase in total fatalities compared to 2016, with almost all incidents occurring in the United States.

SWANA records and investigates fatal incidents that involve solid waste management as part of its mission, and releases industry data to create a better understanding of the state of safety in the solid waste industry and where improvements are necessary.

In 2017, there were 94 members of the public killed and 38 workers on the job, with over 75 percent of the incidents involving a private sector solid waste company.

October 2017 had the most fatalities at 17, though no month had fewer than eight. Compared to 2016, April had the most with 13 fatalities and January had the least with four. Of the workers who died on the job in 2017, approximately 60 percent were killed during collection, 21 percent died at a landfill, with the remainder occurring at Material Recovery Facilities, transfer stations, and other locations.

A disproportionate number of these incidents involved small companies, usually haulers with fewer than 20 trucks. Half of the fatalities that occurred at landfills were drivers working on or around their trucks at the time of the incident, and two of them were spotters.

Sprains, strains, and overexertion injuries also frequently occur as workers jump on and off trucks and handle heavy loads. Exposure to potentially dangerous materials is another hazard.

Although OSHA regulations don’t expressly govern sanitation employees or vehicles, the agency still inspects industry employers if fatalities occur or it receives a complaint.

The American National Standards Institute has published Safety Standards for Mobile Refuse Collection and Compaction Equipment, a group of procedures that offers worker guidance:

  • Ride only in the vehicle cab or on steps specifically designed for riding;
  • Remain inside the vehicle cab until the vehicle is completely stopped;
  • Ensure workers are not using riding steps when the vehicle is backing, exceeding 10 mph or traveling more than 0.2 miles; and
  • Ensure no one rides on the loading sills or in hoppers.

SWANA also offers safety tips for sanitation workers:

  • Wear personal protective equipment, especially high-visibility vests and/or outerwear;
  • Never use cell phones while driving garbage trucks or at a disposal facility; and
  • Buckle up.

A report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), stated that sanitation workers face a fatality risk that is 10 times higher than workers in all other industries, and their injury risk is 2.5 times higher than miners, the report states.

In the report, NYCOSH outlined eight case studies involving fatalities, chemical exposures, and an amputation. Many of the issues stemmed from commercial waste companies that failed to comply with safety regulations, the report states.