For many years, the mining industry had a well-deserved reputation as the most hazardous industry in which to be employed in the United States. In 1907, 362 people were killed in one mine explosion, with over 3,000 people dying over the course of the year. In comparison, in 1978, there were 242 victims of fatal mining accidents in the United States. In 2003, fatalities dropped to the lowest level in recorded history, with 56 miners losing their lives in mining industry accidents, and by 2012, fatalities had dropped to 36. Mining injuries, too, have fallen dramatically. In 1978, there were 5.81 lost-time injuries, and that rate declined by 49 percent in 2003 to only 2.95 lost-time injuries per 200,000 hours. By 2012, the injury rate had fallen to 2.56 per 200,000 hours worked.
How did the mining industry effect such a dramatic turnaround? It’s simple: A policy of zero tolerance for unsafe activities became the rule. In October 2002, the industry created a Small Mine Office to reach out to small mining operations to help them improve or develop safety and health programs tailored specifically to the needs of their miners and operations. They had determined that these operations typically do not have the resources to employ full-time safety and health professionals.
Small mines—those employing five or fewer employees—represent about 50 percent of all U.S. mining operations. From 2000 to 2002, the incidence of fatalities at these small mines was approximately 2.5 times greater than that of larger mining operations in the United States.
There seem to be some parallels between the mining industry and the waste and recycling industry, with a large number of companies in the latter industry falling within the small-to-medium size range. Knowing these similarities, what can the waste and recycling industry learn from the mining industry in order to reduce its fatality and injury rates?
In an effort to address the high fatality and injury rates in the mining industry, a balanced approach to mine safety and health has been implemented. Known as the “Triangle of Success,” this three-pronged approach focuses on education and training, enforcement and technical assistance.
The National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA) is developing a similar approach to address the high fatality and injury rates in the waste and recycling industry. The association has identified concepts and accident prevention activities such as education, training and certification, accident analysis, technical support and sharing access to information regarding identification of hazards and root cause analysis of accidents.
The Association’s “Triangle of Success for Safety” will be anchored by a comprehensive effort addressing education, training and certification. Recent meetings with folks from the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) have been positive, with NW&RA and EREF agreeing to work on joint education and training efforts going forward.
The enforcement side of the “triangle” will be supported by the waste and recycling industry’s American National Standards Institute’s standards, with updating and when necessary, the development of new ANSI standards to address a rapidly changing technologies. It will be important to include all affected stakeholders in the ANSI process and ensuring that the information is used throughout the industry to make our world safer.
The third side of our triangle, technical assistance, will be fostered by the ongoing sharing of safety-related information. The Association Safety Committee has made strides in this arena by forming sub-committees (collections, recycling, transfer stations and landfills) and working groups for addressing targeted safety issues. At the upcoming National Waste & Recycling Association Industry Conference, to be held in Ponte Vedra, Fla., from March 10 to 13, we will kick off what will be an ongoing effort of using a roundtable format for exchanging information between different segments of the waste and recycling industry value chain. The initial group will consist of members from variously sized collection companies, truck manufacturers and representatives from the technology side.
The mining industry has been successful in reducing both fatality and injury rates by use of a policy of zero tolerance for unsafe activities, use of the elements of their “triangle of success” and inclusion of affected stakeholders throughout the process. We now have a blueprint for success, so all we need to do is implement and follow it.