An effective tool for leaders to use in evaluating their workforce in a high-risk environment
By Zachery Geroux

We are at war in the waste industry every day and the battlefields on which we fight are the collection routes that fuel our business. To win this daily war, we must collect each account in a safe and professional manner without any accidents or incidents. The enemies we face are the public we encounter on the road, our equipment and most importantly—ourselves. Some days we win the war—everyone comes home safe, no trucks malfunction and the routes are finished. Other days we lose because something minor happened and our objective was not completed. But on the fateful and rare days when we lose, the cost is astronomical.

It may seem like a strange way to frame our industry, but I want to set the stage for the topic of Operational Risk Management (ORM). Now, I am generally a private person and do not like to talk about myself, but I need to tell you about my other life in order to provide some context. I have been in the Air Force for the past 16 years, as both a traditional and full-time guard member. I work in the world of Command and Control (C2) as a Weapons Director: think Air Traffic Controller but instead of keeping planes apart, I bring them together. I currently work for NORAD where I control high-performance fighter jets on everything from normal training missions to real-world intercepts over the American sky. In the fighter and C2 community, we run a personal ORM Matrix daily to self-evaluate everything from our state-of-mind, experience level, stress, state of rest and workload. It is a non-punitive way for leadership and decision makers to determine risk and whether or not extra attention is needed for any particular mission. In an environment where we need to be razor sharp and at our best, the ORM Matrix provides a starting point to gauge where we stand before we even step up to the mission—because the consequences could be fatal and life-changing.

A few weeks ago, I remembered reading the story of a driver who was run over by his own truck and thought to myself as I was doing my ORM Matrix, “Why doesn’t the waste industry have this?” I could not get that question out of my mind and in the coming days it really started to gnaw at me. I thought about the different aspects of our jobs and how similar they are in many respects, so I began to craft an ORM Matrix, tailoring it to what I see as the biggest risk factors for the front-line operator.
ORM Matrix


Not unlike the fighter community, waste industry drivers operate a high-performance, 20 to 30-ton truck on city streets. They come into contact with distracted drivers, inclement weather, less than ideal traffic conditions and an ever-changing environment. It requires them to be alert and attentive 100 percent of the time for their 8 to 10+ hour shift in order to operate in a safe manner. If you reference the ORM Matrix that I have included in this article, you will see that under the Personal Risk Factors (PRF) column, I have listed multiple items such as Sleep, Experience, Stress and Number of Hours Worked. There are also corresponding colors and numbers associated with each bracket depending on what I have evaluated the level of risk is in each PRF. Now, the PRF is not all inclusive and each category might not fit your operation or site. Feel free to tailor it to your specific needs. Let me now walk you through my thought process and how I stratified each risk factor.

There have been numerous studies performed showing that the amount of sleep a person gets (or does not get) correlates directly to their level of alertness and focus. These studies show that typically with anything less than seven hours of sleep, the more susceptible your body becomes to fatigue, which has the same effect as drugs and alcohol. Now with that being said, we all know people (you might be one yourself) who are highly functional with only five or six hours of sleep. If that is the only metric that comes up on your ORM, you would still be in the low risk category. However, a low number of hours slept could be the symptom of a larger problem and outside the normal amount for an individual. This is why it should still be included and evaluated to the seven-hour standard.

Route Knowledge
I have included this category because as a route driver, I knew that my knowledge of a route directly corresponded to my situational awareness while I was driving. When you are new to a route and unfamiliar with each stop or street, you find yourself constantly focused on how to get to the next account, which distracts you from driving and watching out for potential accidents. Technology has helped mitigate this to a certain extent with routing software in the cab; however, it has not permeated its way through the industry. In the case of commercial accounts, how to enter a property and the location of the container(s) are a big factor with route knowledge, a lack of which for example could lead to property damage or an accident.

Truck Experience
Knowing your equipment and how to use it are a big factor to being a safe and productive operator. If your brain is focused on specific functions of the truck body, tunnel vision quickly sets in and you could lose situational awareness of your surrounding environment very quickly. The highest risk employee in this PRF is an individual new to the industry. They may have many years of experience driving a commercial truck but none as a refuse equipment operator, which require them to do multiple things at once in addition to just driving the truck. It could also be a seasoned employee who is now in a different body category with which they have limited experience. Until they become comfortable and proficient, they are going to be focusing their attention on the controls and learning how to use the truck, rather than operating in the environment.

A good example would be a driver that moves from front loader, rear loader or roll off to automated. They will have a big adjustment by physically concentrating and re-training their brain to drive from the right side of the truck. Throw in using different controls and looking at their mirrors for each cart they collect, and you can see how the operator is now having to juggle multiple tasks at once, which require a lot of concentration outside of the basic skill of driving safely.

CDL Experience
This one should be self-explanatory—the fewer years you have operating a commercial truck, the higher your risk. Green, Yellow and Red time requirements may be higher or lower depending on your operation and personal preference.

Stress (Personal Judgement)
This category is more of an integrity issue than any of the others. It relies on drivers and operators buying into the ORM mindset by being upfront and honest with themselves and the company. The truthfulness of this category will be solely dependent on your operational environment and the culture at your workplace. We will talk more about this later.

Number of Hours Worked in Last Five Days
This is a category that will look different for each site. I have included some baseline numbers that may or may not be appropriate for your particular operation. The important factor with this category is taking into account the employee’s total number of hours worked in the past which will contribute to their fatigue.

How to Implement
Now that we have outlined the basic precepts of the ORM Matrix, let’s talk about how you implement it as a leader within your organization. An important tenant to effective ORM is the buy-in from your drivers and operators. This should not be used to take punitive action against an individual because what you are really doing is evaluating aspects of your employee’s mental health before they start their work day. Life happens and sometimes no matter how hard we try, we are not always going to be focused on the task at hand 100 percent of the time. Your job as a leader is to show that this tool is as much for your employee as it is for the company. You have the responsibility to foster a culture of integrity and psychological safety, where the employee feels comfortable enough to self-evaluate and realize there is no place for an ego, which is antithetical to safe operations.

Looking at the bottom of the Matrix, you will see where the employee tallies their total ORM score and the required actions for each total number. This is only a guideline with recommended actions, similar to what we use in the Air Force.
• GREEN (LOW RISK): If they have two or less total points, they would be considered low risk. No action needed.
• YELLOW (MEDIUM RISK): If their total score was between three and five points or they had 1 High Risk category, they would need to inform their direct supervisor or whomever your organization tasks.
• RED (HIGH RISK): If the score was six points or higher or they had a minimum of two High Risk category selections, than someone higher up than their direct supervisor, such as the Operations Manager, would have to be notified prior to leaving the yard. Your company would also need to develop a High-Risk Matrix (HRM) specific to your companies’ circumstances in order to determine how you would approach each High-Risk case. Examples of what to incorporate into your HRM could range from putting a second employee in the truck as an extra set of eyes, splitting up the route, having a supervisor periodically check in with the driver on route, or even sending the driver home if the situation warranted.
Once the entire crews overall ORM number has been collected, you as a leader now have a snapshot of the potential risk going out on route each day. Tracking the daily ORM metric allows you to keep a historic record. You can then evaluate certain practices or policies you might have that could lead to higher ORM numbers among your employee’s and allow you to adjust or modify.

I would advise against keeping specific driver ORM records and push for recording total daily numbers for your location instead. The human contact aspect of the ORM Matrix is very important and not something to be overlooked. If a driver is repeatedly reporting in the Red Category on their ORM for say sleep and stress, leadership now has an opportunity and excuse to sit down and discuss ways that they can provide support or help.

Example Scenarios
Let’s look at a couple scenarios with fictitious employees to determine their ORM number based on the sample chart I have included. These scenarios may seem silly, but I wanted to keep them very basic and generic in order to show how to use the ORM Matrix and determine a score. The company for these scenarios operate Monday through Friday and the typical driver gets 40 to 42 hours a week.

Case Study #1
Bob is newer employee who has been driving an automated side loader for a year, has 1.5 years total CDL driving time and has had a steady route for nine months. He does his personal ORM Matrix on a Monday morning after getting eight hours of sleep, however a close family member was admitted into the hospital over the weekend. Their situation weighs heavy on his mind and he is worried about receiving the dreaded phone call while at work. Because of this, he evaluates his stress level as High.

Bob would be in the Medium Risk category due to his overall driving experience and time. He would be required to report the 1 ‘R’ because he performed an honest evaluation of his stress level. His direct supervisor would expect Bob to report his ORM score as three, but could pull Bob aside to quietly inquire about his High-Risk category. Because Bob feels psychologically safe enough to talk about his family member in the hospital, he lets his supervisor know he is expecting a phone call with bad news. At this point, his leadership would be aware of the situation and ready to provide support for their driver.

Case Study #2
Joe is a 10-year veteran refuse driver who has recently moved from rear load to front load and after one month of training, is assigned a route. He runs his personal ORM matrix on a Friday after a long week where he is currently sitting at 44 hours because he is still learning the route. Even though he slept six hours and feels rested, he would be in the High-Risk category with 3 ‘Rs’.
Because of this, management runs their High-Risk Matrix and the decision is made for Joe to continue as normal on his route. Before the front load drivers leave the yard, they are informed of their team members situation and they all agree to come help Joe out when they have finished their routes.
Another possibility this company has on their High-Risk Matrix is the option to assign another worker to ride shotgun and give Joe a hand on his route. The takeaway is that the company has crafted multiple options for different High-Risk Management scenarios.

Final Thoughts
Even though I have tailored this article around the front-line route operators, the ORM Matrix is something that can be used in multiple applications within the waste industry complex. It can be easily modified for use in MRF and landfill operations or even manufacturing, which all use heavy machinery and equipment daily.

Bottom line is that the level of accountability is proportionate to the level of integrity and buy-in from your employees. If they are not honest with themselves, the ORM Matrix holds no meaning and is an exercise in futility. The culture of psychological safety that you, as leaders, need to cultivate is key to seeing this successfully implemented. Too many times I have heard drivers express the sentiment that leadership makes them feel like “meat in the seat” rather than valuable team members who contribute to the company.

A truth which must be acknowledged is that we have a national driver shortage and your operation might not have the resources for you to adequately respond to the ORM score of your employees. Regardless, I believe there should be no reason prohibiting you from implementing this system. Open and honest communication across all levels is the paramount for a healthy organization to be able to thrive and adapt.

Most importantly, this tool is free. It costs you nothing to create, start or implement and hopefully by now you have realized that the ORM Matrix is a way for you to perform a valuable type of “preventative maintenance” on the most important assets of your business: your people.

Zachary Geroux is a consultant, videographer, historian, and owner of Refuse Truck Media and Consulting, which focuses on media and marketing for the Waste Industry. He lives in Western Washington with his wife and son who loves garbage trucks just as much as his dad. He has been driving garbage trucks off and on for the past 12 years and considers it the best job he has ever had. He can be reached at (541) 301-1507 or visit
If you would like an editable excel ORM Matrix used in this article, e-mail [email protected].

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