Choosing a solution that is “purpose-built” to move dumpsters right from the trash room can reduce safety risks, worker’s comp claims and double your efficiency.

By Jeremy Nuehring

Insurance statistics show that for mid-rise and high-rise multi-family apartments and condos, the trash room is the most dangerous area on the property. Many of those injuries are related to moving dumpsters. If you are considering purchasing a dumpster pusher or tug, here are some things you should consider before you pull the trigger.

Buy Something that is Purpose-Built for the Job

There are a number of products that can be used to pull/push dumpsters from the trash room to the curbside for hauler pick up. Forklifts, four-wheelers, pallet jacks, golf carts or other side-by-side vehicles like Gators or Rangers. These products are tempting because they can be multi-purpose—hauling, moving snow, carrying tools—but these solutions can turn out to miss the mark on the primary objective, which is reducing the risk related to moving dumpsters. Because moving a dumpster with a forklift or pallet jack requires the user to raise two or even all four caster wheels off of the ground in order to move the dumpster, injuries to personnel or damage to property is common. There are frequent stories about employees getting injured trying to stop a loaded dumpster when it begins to slide off of the forks and starts to tip. The use of golf carts, gators or even tow-vehicles to move dumpsters is common practice, but also has drawbacks.

Using a ball hitch or chain to tow a dumpster out of the trash room generally requires the user to manually move the dumpster out of the trash room, to a more convenient area for a larger tow vehicle. Here is where things get risky. Getting the dumpster rolling is when most back and shoulder strain injuries occur. OSHA will tell you that if an employee needs to exert more than 50 lbs. of force to move a stationary object, it creates a risk for injury, and they recommend the use of some sort of motorized “assist” to get the object moving. The bottom line is that customers should choose a solution that is “purpose-built” to move dumpsters right from the trash room. Again, although it is tempting to try and get more utility out of a product to move dumpsters, when you consider the increased risk, and the potential cost of an injury claim, it turns out to not be worth it. Get something designed specifically to do the task, and you will reduce risk.

 Work with a Company Whose Employees Understand Your Application and Will Stand Behind their Recommendation—They Should Have a Track Record in the Industry

Moving dumpsters is not rocket science, but purchasing the wrong product or the wrong model of the right product, can lead to injuries, damage to property, reduced efficiency and, ultimately, the product not being used.

The provider that you choose should have a defined process to determine the right solution to your challenge. Based on the questions that you are asked when you contact the manufacturer, you will know pretty quickly whether or not you are talking to someone who knows his business and understands yours. The goal is to come away confident that their recommendation is on target. What should you expect them to ask you? Here are the basics:

  • Is your trash compacted or loose?
  • What size are your dumpsters?
  • What does the path from the trash room to the curb look like?
  • Inclines?
  • Rough surfaces?
  • Distance?
  • Climate/weather issues?
  • Fixed or swivel casters?

Failure to gather this type of information before recommending a product is a sure sign of someone who is more interested in selling you something than in solving your problem. What if you discover, after you have purchased the product, that it simply cannot do the job? Assuming you have accurately disclosed the details of your application upfront, will they work with you to deliver the right product? Will they refund your money if the recommended product simply will not perform? Certainly there will be time limits following your purchase, and failure to disclose key information about your property will work against you, but you will want to know the answers to these questions before you purchase.

Work with a Company Who will be Around Down the Road—A Solid History of Support is a Key Indicator Regarding Future Serviceability

Whether you lease or purchase a powered dumpster mover, acquiring a capital asset is something that should be done with the future in mind. The trash room can be a challenging environment considering the fact that it will likely be dirty and damp, and the path to where the dumpsters need to be staged may have narrow doorways, tight turns, rough pavement, inclines and other obstacles. The product that you choose should last a number of years, but be aware that it is likely that you will need replacement parts and possibly onsite service some time down the road. Products that rely on commonly available components (especially tires and batteries) will be serviceable by the owner, extending the usable service life and reducing maintenance costs. They should be able to describe their service network, and although not every component will be commonly available, be sure to confirm that the manufacturer stocks parts for the product you choose, and that they have been in business long enough to give you confidence that they will be around to support you, and their product, for years to come.

Consider the “Hidden” Benefit of a Powered Dumpster Mover—Efficiency

The primary reason that a dumpster mover is recommended is related to safety, but the use of a powered dumpster mover represents a significant opportunity to improve efficiency. Due to the historically high number of worker’s comp claims, many multi-family property management companies have updated their trash room policies to require that two employees be used to move dumpsters. They benefit from the cost savings related to fewer injuries, but the efficiency hit is significant. The use of a powered dumpster mover allows one employee to move dumpsters on their own. That means the second maintenance employee is free to get other tasks done, doubling efficiency.

Ask for a Referral

Do not be afraid to ask for a couple of references from companies who are using the product in an environment similar to yours. If you have to move dumpster up an incline, or through snow, talk to someone who is already doing it successfully. The manufacturer you work with should be able to provide a reference with a similar application with whom you can have a brief conversation. Be sure to ask if the manufacturer has any units at properties within your company’s portfolio. The best referral is from someone you have some familiarity with.

Technical Specifications

Finally, below are some technical specifications that you should consider:

  • Weight – 500lbs+: The dumper mover itself should weigh at least 500 lbs. An empty dumpster can weigh more than 1,000 lbs. So whether you have loose trash or compacted trash, that dumpster is heavy. Again, the moment of highest risk is when an employee needs to get it started moving from a stationary position. Climate and terrain issues compound the risk. If the path to where you dumpster needs to be staged for hauler pick up has a rough surface, an incline or if you have to deal with a wet or snowy climate, you will want to be sure the product you choose has enough weight for proper traction in those situations. Find something that weighs 500 lbs. at a minimum; larger dumpsters or steep inclines may require an even larger unit.
  • Footprint/size should be 60″ or less from handle to dumpster: Many trash rooms are too narrow or tight to move in, and hallways are generally narrower. Plus, every application we have seen requires the dumpsters to not only be pulled, but also pushed into a resting area, if not for just simple navigating in and out of a jamb. Make sure the distance between (where the operator grabs the handle of the device and the dumpster) is as short as possible. It is almost a must if you are truly going to expect the mover to handle the dumpster throughout its move. Sixty inches or less is recommended.
  • Rugged, durable design – steel frame and body: There is a reason that your dumpster is made of steel. The trash room is a tough environment.
  • Runtimes – consider battery life: Some trash runs require dumpsters to be moved over a long distance. Your dumpster mover may have to make numerous trips of between charges. Look for a dumpster mover with at least three 12-volt batteries to ensure adequate runtime.
  • Variable speed: Tight quarters in trash rooms can require some pretty precise navigation to get the dumpster moved out. OSHA outlines strict requirements related to “powered-assist carts” that call for unlimited variable speed in production environments at manufacturing plants. Your requirements are very similar. Unlimited (meaning it has the capability to “crawl” at a very slow speed) variable speed allows the operator precise control to make the slightest movements in tight areas. Without unlimited variable speed, a sudden jerk could put your operator in harm’s way between the dumpster mover, the dumpster, and the wall. Products with a hand twist grip as seem to provide the best control.

A Return on Investment

The average cost of a Workers Comp claim for an injury in the trash room is more than $41,000, and the increase in your companies Workers Comp Insurance premium will be three times that over the next three years. This decision is not just about saving money. It is about creating a safe work environment for your employees so they go home healthy, and return ready to work the next day. Combine improved safety with the ability to double maintenance staff efficiency with a tool that allows one employee to move dumpsters out, and you have a strong argument for the purchase. The frosting on the cake? If all of this allows you to keep next year’s Workers Comp premiums low, your likely to be able to show a compelling return on investment!

Jeremy Nuehring is a Sr. Sales Engineer at DJ Products (Little Falls, MN). In business for 18 years, DJ Products manufactures and markets battery-powered pushers and tugs for the materials handling, aircraft, waste and manufacturing industries. Jeremy leads the team focused on solutions for multi-family including commercial, affordable and government owned properties. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit