Waste Advantage Magazine

Solid waste industry reduces fatalities and injuries

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

The most recent data from 2009 for the solid waste industry1 indicate that occupational fatalities have decreased substantially and the downward trend in days-away-from-work injuries and illnesses continues.2 These data, which are recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are encouraging. Yet the industry remains one of the top 10 most hazardous in the U.S.

The total number of fatalities in 2009 was 43 after averaging 67 fatalities per year over the previous six years. Still, 83 percent of the 571 occupational fatalities between 2003 and 2009 occurred in the private sector.

Common Events
The most common events associated with fatalities in the solid waste industry are transportation incidents and contact with objects or equipment. The number of occupational fatalities in each category decreased in 2009. The BLS data show that the fatalities due to transportation incidents fell from an average of 48 over the past six years to 29 in 2009. Nearly all of this decrease resulted from fewer roadway vehicle collisions. However, the number of transportation fatalities due to solid waste workers being struck by vehicles or mobile equipment has remained relatively unchanged over the past seven years—averaging 13 per year.

Fatality reductions also extend across occupation classes with transportation workers experiencing the greatest number of fatalities as well as the greatest reduction in 2009. Construction and extraction occupations and installation, maintenance and repair occupations were also at or near historic lows. Yet collection worker fatalities, part of the transportation worker class, did not decline nearly as much as the rest of the workers in the class.

Days Away from Work
The total number of occupational injuries and illnesses that resulted in days-away-fromwork also continued to decline in 2009, down 40 percent from its 2003 level, according to the BLS data. The injury and illness data are complex but indicate overall reductions in hazards for parts of the industry. Contact with objects and equipment, the leading event across the private sector of the industry, decreased by more than 40 percent over the past two years that data are available. The second leading event, overexertion, had decreased in the previous six years but showed a substantial increase for 2009 when compared with 2008. The risks for each event category were greater for the collection portion of the industry than for treatment and disposal.

Collection of injury and illness data for municipal workers by BLS began in 2008 so only two years of data have been published. The municipal waste collection workers experienced 3.5 times the number of days-away-from-work injuries and illnesses as their counterparts in the private sector although each group employs similar numbers of collection workers. There are differences in the age of the injured workers with municipal workers who are injured being older than the injured private sector workers. Some of this difference is due to 40 percent of the injured workers in the private sector being employed for less than 12 months.

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