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The Environmental Industry Associations’ (EIA) Safety Committee had a very productive meeting last month at the Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) landfill near Austin. More than 50 people representing solid waste companies throughout the United States – including haulers, equipment manufacturers, safety equipment providers and consultants – gathered to review the latest fatality and injury data, receive updates on OSHA and DOT regulatory and enforcement activities, network and hear from several informative guest speakers. This meeting was co-located with two Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC) ANSI Z245 subcommittee meetings, where attendees discussed revisions to the safety standards that apply to garbage trucks and solid waste processing facilities.

One of the most important topics discussed at the EIA Safety Committee meeting was the solid waste industry’s growing problem with drivers crashing into the back of a stopped or slowing garbage truck or crossing into the path of a moving truck and having a head-on collision. These events often result in deaths or serious injuries. With the U.S. population aging and younger drivers increasingly distracted by their cell phones, such incidents appear to be on the increase. Unfortunately, there is no easy or simple solution to this societal problem.

One of our guest speakers, Sonya Bhakta, described research she is doing on the solid waste safety environment. The data provided was truly staggering, as the municipalities she is studying report an injury rate between 20 and 39 – far above the national average of 5.4. (An injury rate is the number of injured employees per 100 employees in a given year.) Many employees in these departments say they are forced to compromise safety to perform their jobs. The study will be released by University of Tulsa in early 2012.

Prior to the meetings, TDS gave us a tour of their landfill, materials recovery facility (MRF) and exotic animal reserve. The landfill and MRF tours were informative, but a highlight for many attendees was the animal reserve. TDS has a Texas-sized number of wild animals from Africa on a 1,175-acre site at its landfill, including several giraffes and a rhinoceros. Crossing the reserve to get to the TDS pavilion where the meetings were held was a bit like being on an African safari!

When the EIA Safety Commitee meets and discusses reducing accidents and injuries, it is easy to forget that many of these companies are fierce competitors. But the goal of improving the safety performance of the entire industry is paramount. Best practices are shared; internal company studies are discussed; potential solutions are explored; and EIA programs are planned.

Although the EIA Safety Committee meets twice each year, members receive weekly communications on safety-related matters from EIA staff that help them reduce accidents and injuries. This sharing of information is a critical component of EIA’s safety program. Most companies and local governments benefit from receiving useful and timely information on a regular basis that reduce costs and help your employees reduce accidents and injuries. Contact me if you are interested in receiving such information.

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What's Safety First?

Phil Hagan, director of safety for the National Waste & Recycling Associa, keeps an eye on safety issues affecting the waste and recycling industries.

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Phil Hagan

Phil Hagan is the Director of Safety for the National Waste & Recycling Association, a practicing attorney and teaches at Georgetown University.
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