Equipment and drivers are essential to any fleet’s safety, productivity and long-term profitability. Investing in the best combination can go a long way towards building a successful and safety-conscious business.

Curtis Dorwart

Each year, nearly 120,000 waste workers in the U.S. collect more than 250 million tons of trash generated by American homes and businesses. It can be risky: working with heavy equipment is physically demanding and maneuvering congested urban streets safely takes skill and razor-sharp focus. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed trash and recycling collector as one of the five most dangerous jobs in the U.S. in its 2016 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, with 33 fatalities per every 100,000 workers—more than police officers, construction workers and miners.

While semi- and fully-automated refuse collection vehicles have helped to reduce injuries by lessening the physical demands of the job, the level of risk is still high. While there is no single solution that will eliminate all risks, the right equipment can help. Fortunately, the industry continues to innovate, with designs and new technologies that go a long way toward making the job safer for refuse workers and the communities they serve. As a leading OEM for the refuse industry, we have thought a good deal about how a truck’s design can enhance the driver’s abilities and make the job safer, working on four basic principles.

#1: Enhance Visibility

A game-changer for safety is awareness of the environment; therefore, good visibility in as many directions as possible is a must. Look for a truck that provides a large front windshield and generous side windows to mitigate blind spots. And, since 25 percent of accidents and injuries in the waste industry are the result of backing incidents, maximizing the truck’s rear view with large rear windows adds an additional layer of safety for working the truck through neighborhoods and while changing lanes.

#2: Add More Eyes

If an athlete can improve his performance by watching video of himself in action, why can’t a driver use that same method? That is the logic behind using in-vehicle video to improve driver safety and productivity. To help fleets be more proactive about the safety of their workers, we are incorporating video services into our refuse models.

An in-vehicle video system mounts near the top and center of the windshield and has lenses facing inward and outward. The camera records internal and external events on a constant loop and, when a triggering event takes place—say a sudden stop or a swerve—it saves a clip of what occurred before and after the event. This clip is downloaded and specialists analyze and score the event to see if the driver was engaged in any risky behavior, like following too closely behind another vehicle or speeding. This enables proactive coaching to help drivers develop safer on-road behavior.

An in-vehicle video system continuously records external events from multiple camera views and organizes video based on triggers, such as when a vehicle arm lifts a bin, and by tags, such as customer collection location. Not only do cameras enhance safety, but they also give fleets an eye on their day-to-day operation, helping to reduce accident liability, prevent theft and monitor job sites.

#3: Maneuver Like a Pro

Depending on the environment your trucks operate in, you will want to choose a configuration to give your drivers the advantage on the streets, including the ability to safely maneuver in tight spaces and turnarounds. Flexibility in your fleet helps you give drivers the best tool for every job. While a three-axle 6×4 configuration offers flexibility for most operations, a lighter and more compact 4×2 configuration can offer a tighter turning radius, enabling drivers to more easily and safely navigate alleys and other small spaces.

#4: Mitigate Driver Fatigue

Since the job of the refuse worker must be done in all sorts of weather and often in densely populated areas, the physical and mental demands can be high. Therefore, driver comfort is more than just a “nice-to-have” feature; it truly contributes to safer operations and helps fleets retain their best drivers.

Look for features designed to enhance comfort and safety, including an easily accessible gauge cluster, power windows and door locks, in-dash air-conditioning and brighter, more efficient LED lighting. Also look for a model that provides low ground clearance and large grab handles to make entering and exiting the cab, which refuse workers do hundreds of times a day, less physically taxing.

Investing in Safety

We have developed these safety principles from insights gathered from hundreds of interviews with customers in the development of the LR low entry refuse model. The result is a truck designed to enhance safety on the job and provide a more comfortable working environment to help fight driver fatigue. Equipment and drivers are essential to any fleet’s safety, productivity and long-term profitability. Investing in the best combination can go a long way toward building a successful and safety-conscious business.

Curtis Dorwart is the Refuse Product Manager for Mack Trucks, Inc. (Greensboro, NC) and is responsible for the commercialization of the Mack TerraPro and LR Mack truck models. He has been in the trucking industry for 38 years, starting in the business as a diesel truck mechanic. He has been active in many aspects of the business, including service, warranty, customer support, dealer technical support, and he has been a senior staff engineer in electrical engineering and an engineering manager where he filled the role of lead engineer for projects that implemented the Mack MP7 series engine, V-MAC IV electronics and new cab and interior projects for Mack Granite and Pinnacle truck models.  In recent years, he has been Product Manager in product planning for the Mack TerraPro low cab forward models with a key focus on the refuse industry and the emerging areas surrounding alternative fuels. Curtis can be reached at (610) 844-7861.