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Safety First: NIOSH Numbers

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What a recent NIOSH fact sheet reveals about waste industry safety.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently published a fact sheet on safety in the solid waste industry. NIOSH has been conducting research on solid waste safety issues during the past few years, and NIOSH representatives recently spoke at WasteExpo and Wastecon and participated in several Environmental Industry Associations’ (EIA) Safety Committee meetings.

The NIOSH fact sheet reviews injury, illnesses and fatality data for the solid waste industry from 2003 to 2009. NIOSH defines the solid waste industry as employers in NAICS Code 562. The fact sheet confirms a trend that developed early last decade and has continued into the present: the frequency of worker fatalities and injuries among solid waste employees is declining.

The overall number of worker fatalities averaged about 85 during the seven years examined by NIOSH. While NIOSH found the number of private sector fatalities plummeted from 90 in 2003 to less than 50 in 2009, it also noted “the number of fatalities in the public sector has remained relatively unchanged during this period.” This is consistent with data maintained by the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), whose data also shows that this trend of declining worker fatalities continues thus far in 2012 compared to 2011.

With regard to injuries and illnesses, NIOSH found the Days-Away-From- Work (DAFW) injury and illness rate, which measures events that cause employees to be absent from work at least one day beyond the event, declined by 48 percent between 2003 and 2009, from 347 to 184 per 10,000 employees. Not surprisingly, the biggest contributor to this decline has been a sharp decrease in such injuries and illnesses to drivers and helpers. Increased use of automated equipment likely contributed to this reduction. NIOSH’s data states being struck by objects/ equipment and overexertion are the two most common injuries suffered by solid waste workers.

The NIOSH Fact Sheet provides two examples of fatal accidents, the first a municipal helper in Massachusetts who died after falling from the riding step of the truck, the second a driver at a New Jersey company who ran after a runaway truck and was run over. These incidents eerily recall a pair of nearly identical incidents earlier this year: A municipal helper in New York fell from a truck in April and died, and a driver at an Illinois company was run over by his own truck two weeks later.

These two recent accidents highlight the need for all solid waste employers and employees to focus on preventing accidents and injuries. NIOSH urges employers to develop a “positive safety culture, ” operate consistent with the ANSI Z245 standards, and “conduct task specific worker training that is repeated at regular intervals. ” The NIOSH fact sheet identifies several additional resources for solid waste employers and employees. The only non-governmental resources it identifies are NSWMA’s safety page on its website and the Waste Equipment Technology Association’s (WASTEC) ANSI standards. NSWMA and WASTEC believe the favorable trends identified by NIOSH are continuing, and hope that companies (particularly small haulers) and local governments will take advantage of the associations’ safety resources to prevent future accidents and injuries.

For more information about NSWMA’s safety program, visit http://environmentalistseveryday.org/safety.

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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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