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Solid Waste Collection Truck Injuries

By Tami Tanoue, Executive Director

There are several especially risky operations in municipal government, and operation of/assisting with solid waste collection trucks is certainly one of them. Just look at a few of the entries found in a search of the OSHA website. The striking thing about this tragic collection of injuries is the frequency with which the same scenarios are described over and over:

“Employee is killed when run over by garbage truck”

“Employee is pinned between garbage truck and wall”

“Employee dies from head injuries sustained in fall from garbage truck”

“Garbage truck strikes employee while backing up”

And then there’s this one: ”Trash truck collides with train carrying dozens of lawmakers.” This is a serious topic, so I’m not going to say anything flippant here. But I could. But I’m not. I’m going to type it. And then erase it. There.

Solid waste collection involves tall, bulky vehicles, balky mechanical equipment, and heavy, unwieldy loads. The work takes place out in the open, in municipal streets, year-around, under often-harsh conditions and tight deadlines. It’s no wonder that accidents, when they happen, involve a high risk of serious injury or death. But the frequency with which these accidents happen is equally concerning, especially when the reported accidents seem to implicate the same well-known causes over and over.

There are many unsung heroes in municipal government, and we would certainly count among them the employees who have taken on the challenge of dealing with the detritus of daily living that we all create. They deserve better than to be exposed to known and controllable hazards. From elected officials, to management, to individual workers, we all have a responsibility to protect against these hazards. Municipal governments excel at working responsibly and intelligently, valuing people first, and coming up with smart solutions to difficult problems. Let’s think about how we can keep solid waste collection employees out of harm’s way by:

  • Making sure that vehicles and associated equipment are maintained in tip-top shape, and by replacing manual operations with semi- or fully-automated solutions where feasible;
  • Ensuring that appropriate safety protocols are in place for all phases of solid waste collection, especially those that are known to be higher risk;
    Providing appropriate assistance for unusual operations such as dealing with mechanical failures, climbing heights, addressing especially heavy loads, etc.;
  • Ensuring that drivers and helpers don’t rush at the expense of safety due to unrealistic workloads, schedules, routes, or production goals, and establishing an evaluation and compensation system that rewards safety rather than cutting corners at the risk of safety;
  • Dealing with the distracted driving risks posed by both solid waste truck drivers and the general public;
  • Others?

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