From packing the right safety supplies to navigating traffic safely, these tips will keep you safe during the solid waste collection process.
By Donald Meeker
Waste management is a huge part of how we keep our world and our homes clean and livable. Unfortunately, waste management is also a more dangerous job than most people realize. In fact, solid waste collection was the fifth most dangerous job in America in 2017, with 35 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers. Those numbers highlight the extreme need for an improved safety culture in the waste management industry.
We have got a little bit of advice for waste collection workers who want to step up their safety game. From packing the right safety supplies to navigating traffic safely, these are the tips that will keep you safe during the solid waste collection process.
#1: Come Equipped with Safety Supplies that Prepare You for the Weather
Like anyone with a demanding job, a waste collection professional has to come to work with the right gear. Since waste collection professionals work outside most of the time, they need to prepare themselves with a weather-appropriate kit:
- Hot Weather: Light-colored clothing with long sleeves, plus a safety vest with pockets made from breathable mesh. Durable safety sunglasses and a hat or headband to keep sweat off your face.
- Cold Weather: Layered high visibility clothing with synthetic insulation (as it performs better than down in wet conditions). Boots with good grip for navigating ice or snow.
- Rainy Weather: Rain jacket, extra changes of dry clothes, waterproof boots and a reflective vest (if your rain jacket is not reflective).
In addition, no matter what environment you are working in, always make sure to bring some water to drink since dehydration can strike in any type of weather.
#2: Always Complete a Pre-Shift Inspection of Your Collection Vehicle
When it comes to safe waste collection, every little thing counts. Make sure to check each of the following as part of your pre-shift inspection:
• Hoist and lift systems
• Fire extinguisher
• Backup alert system
• Windshield wipers
• Engine fluids
• Lights (including hazard lights)
• First aid kit
• Cameras (if present)
If any of the above is out of order, correct the problem immediately and/or notify a supervisor.
#3: Never Operate the Collection Vehicle in Reverse if Possible
The most common waste collection vehicles are large trucks equipped with lifts. Operating a waste truck requires care and skill, and operation in reverse is particularly difficult. If possible, try to never go in reverse. Circling the block may be more time-consuming, but it is better than a potentially deadly accident.
Sometimes, you will have no choice other than to reverse the truck. Under these circumstances, the driver always needs to have assistance from a second person on the ground who helps direct the truck. The person directing needs to keep a vigilant eye out for vehicles, children, animals and any other hazards that might be present. If at any point the driver can no longer see the person on the ground, the driver must stop immediately.
#4: Commit to Good Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene is more important than ever now that the threat of COVID-19 is always looming. Waste collectors should be aware of the risks they face and take extra precautions, including the following:
• Wear proper PPE, including mask and gloves
• Tend to wounds or other injuries as soon as they happen
• Do not touch your face any more than is absolutely necessary
• Ask a doctor whether vaccines such as tetanus and/or hepatitis are appropriate for you
• Immediately report puncture wounds from hypodermic needles and seek prompt medical attention
• Shower as soon as you get home
• Wash your work clothes separately from other garments
• Have multiple sets of work clothes ready so you do not have to reuse dirty ones on short notice
#5: Practice Good Physical Handling Techniques
Handling waste bins and bulk waste correctly is one of the most important ways to avoid injury while on the job. Use the following techniques to minimize the physical risk:
• Always lift with your knees and keep your back straight throughout the lift
• Whenever possible, roll garbage bins instead of carrying them
• Carry heavy bins and other heavy waste with two hands when you must carry them
• Make sure your feet are firmly planted before attempting to lift heavy waste
• Use a variety of throwing techniques to avoid repetitive strain injuries
• Be aware that unmarked sharp objects are a constant possibility
#6: Know How to Escalate a Safety Complaint
The best way to resolve a safety complaint is simply to take it up with the other people involved. Talk to your coworkers and discuss how safety issues can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Sometimes, you may need to report the complaint to a supervisor. It is best to know your department’s complaint procedures ahead of time so that you can file yours quickly and discreetly if necessary. Make sure your complaint is specific and actionable, and that it follows established procedures.
In extreme cases, you may need to contact OSHA or your state’s Department of Labor. Remember that you are probably protected by whistleblower laws, so do not be afraid of retaliation from your boss or coworkers.
#7: Avoid Letting Routine Turn into Complacency
Routine and habit are key tools for developing a safety culture, but they can also work against you. When you perform the same safety checks every day before work, you can become vulnerable to complacency without even realizing it.
Try having a different member of your team perform the safety checks each day on a rotating schedule so that no one person falls into the routine too much. It can also be useful to keep visual reminders of your checking processes around the workplace to provide a handy reminder of the proper procedures.
Following Best Practices
Sanitation workers are some of the most essential workers in our economy. If you are out there collecting waste, know that America is grateful to you for doing a dangerous and difficult job. Just remember to keep yourself safe and follow best practices to stay healthy. | WA
Donald Meeker serves as the President for Summit Safety (Brookfield, FL). In 2008, Donald launched the HiVis Supply website to fill a need in the industrial safety market. Before joining Summit Safety, Donald began his career in the industrial safety channel working for a PPE manufacturer, as well as, expanded his experience while with a safety distribution-focused marketing agency. He can be reached via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/donald-meeker-0331a215. For more information, visit www.hivissupply.com.
• www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/18879-sanitation-worker-deaths- down-slightly-but-still-high-analysis