Even though safety has improved in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done.



Even though the waste and recycling industry are making some strides towards a safer work environment, there is still some work to be done since the industry remains on the top ten most dangerous occupations according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Waste Advantage Magazine spoke with one of our EAB members and an industry expert on safety, to get their opinions on where the safety issue stands as well as some ideas for improvements.


Will Flower has more than 28 years of experience working in the field of environmental protection, working for the organization such as Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc. and Republic Services, Inc.


Nick Collins is Marketing Director for Ritz Safety, a company that services the safety and personal protective equipment needs of businesses and industries of all types, from construction to waste management, farming to emergency services, and everything in between. 


Do you believe that companies’ employees are safer than they were six months or even one year ago?

WF: The risks employees face are essentially same. Therefore, the question of employees being safer really depends on how much safety training the employees have received. Workers who receive regular safety training and are part of an organization where safety is a real priority are probably safer.  Employees who are not adequately trained and work in an environment where no one is focused on safety are probably more at risk of an accident or injury. One alarming factor that is putting solid waste employees at greater risk is distracted driving. Drivers who are texting while driving are dangerous and such action results in greater risk to industry drivers and helpers who are collecting wastes and recyclables. As an industry, I believe we should aggressively support bans on texting while driving all vehicles. Obviously, operating a solid waste collection vehicle is very different than driving a car.  In order to maintain safety, professional drivers make adjustments for stopping distance, turning ratios and navigation of narrow streets. Since solid waste vehicles are large and heavy, they require extra time to come to a stop and wide angles to make turns. Garbage truck drivers must be aware of their surroundings and the limitations of their vehicles, and drive defensively at all times.

NC:Safety is ultimately the responsibility of the individual. No matter how comprehensive a safety program is, if an employee neglects to follow procedure, an injury will happen. That said many management teams are beginning to put a greater emphasis on safety if for no other reason than as a cost-savings maneuver. In realizing the costs of increased insurance rates (including health, property and vehicle), OSHA fines and even lawsuits due to accidents, we are seeing an increase in the number of onsite training requests and site safety audits. Many managers are trying to get ahead of potential safety hazards and get their employees trained in the latest safety regulations and standards that in some cases, they have neglected in the past. And with the economy starting to pick back up, many companies are beginning to hire more requiring updates in their safety standard so many are going the route of re-training their entire workforces. So an increased emphasis in safety has certainly been seen over the past few years.


What is the most efficient way to keep up with changing safety regulations?

WF: Keeping up with regulatory changes is like drinking from a fire hose. The standards that are in place today will continue to evolve while new regulations will be imposed. Bottom line, change is constant! As safety regulations change and best practices emerge, managers who are not carefully monitoring recent regulatory developments may find that they are no longer in compliance. To ensure you are current, I would recommend conducting a safety audit of your entire operation from time to time. Conducting a thorough risk assessment by a qualified safety consultant will help you identify areas of non-compliance or weaknesses. Even good safety programs can benefit from a safety assessment. Once that is done, you need to keep pace with future changes. There is a wealth of knowledge available online from organizations such as OSHA, ANSI and ISO. Industry publications and trade associations such as NSWMA and SWANA are excellent resources. You may also want to check with your insurance company and vendors who can help. Finally, there are a variety of webinars, industry seminars and training courses to keep you current on the latest in safety regulations and trends. Keeping ahead of the curve requires time and resources to ensure the safety of your workers.

NC:Continuing to monitor OSHA, ANSI, ISO organizations and inquiring how your vendors can assist with training are great ways to stay on top things. No one can ever know all the new regulations, so reaching out for the assistance of some of your trusted contacts are easy ways to help ease that burden. Personally taking part, and offering the same opportunities to your employees, in various webinars, safety shows and vendor training courses is another way to keep up on the ever changing safety regulations.


What is the biggest safety issue in the waste and recycling industry?

WF: To identify the biggest safety issue, I would examine the root cause of accidents and injuries that results in the greatest number of accidents and injuries. When doing so, I am struck by how often “fatigue” is the culprit. As an industry we have long struggled with the issue of “Hours of Service”. This is a management issue. Drivers, helpers and other workers can only be pushed so far.  I’m all for maximizing productivity but I would never do it at the expense of someone’s safety. Other big safety issues include:

  • Obeying size and weight limits
  • Following speed limits
  • Avoiding texting while driving and other distractions
  • Improper lifting or lifting too much weight resulting in strains and sprains
  • Backing accidents

All of these issues can be effectively addressed with a comprehensive safety program.

NC: Across the nation, no matter what industry, hand injuries continue to be near the top of the list of safety issues. Ensuring the various work areas of your work sites have the proper hand protection based on the task will help reduce your injuries. Also providing periodic training that is appropriate for each work area will play a vital role in reducing safety claims.


Fall protection training is also something that we as a distributor are seeing an increase in. Whether it is falls from truck roofs during cleaning and maintenance or while someone is working inside a transfer station or recycling depot, fall hazards exist everywhere. Per OSHA 1926.502 (subpart M), anytime an employee is working near an unprotected edge that is 6’ or more above a lower level, they must be protected by use of a guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system. With OSHA’s increased emphasis in this, many employers are beginning to address their fall safety issues at their workplace.


How important is it for a company to have a safety program, safety coordinator/trainer? Do you see the differences in companies that have these things vs. companies that do not?

WF: Having both a qualified safety coordinator and an effective safety program are critical to an organization’s success.  Additionally, safety programs are known to increase employee moral as workers gain confidence that their employers are looking out for them.

NC: A safety program is absolutely vital to a safe workplace. The key is if the program is properly installed and effectively used by those it is meant to protect. Employees who know management has a dedicated focus on their own safety, will only have a stronger level of confidence in them. Companies must have a qualified safety coordinator or trainer.  This can be in-house or through external third-party consultants. The safety coordinator has to own the process and work in conjunction with management to maintain the required training, updates on regulations, and safety auditing of their worksite and industry. Those companies that do not have a qualified safety coordinator or trainer, and an effective safety program, are at a greater risk.


What is the number one thing that companies can do to improve their safety statistics?

WF: Simple—make sure that everyone is involved.  From helpers to supervisors and managers, safety has to be “top of mind”. The acceptance, involvement and commitment to the safety program by top management are critical if you are going to achieve a true “culture of safety”. Training is another critical activity that will improve safety performance. A good training program will make workers aware of risks and educate employees about how they can stay out of harm’s way.

NC: Having an open door policy on safety is a great way to improve safety statistics. Your employees are driving the trucks, working the yards or sorting the materials and experience day in and day out the safety risks that management is trying to protect them from. Allowing them to speak freely about the potential risks they see, hazards that are present or instances they have experienced only helps make everyone safer.


When designing a safety program what is important to include?

WF: First, you need to understand your audience and get them to be actively engaged in the program. Your goal should be to create a program in which all the people within the organization understand the importance of safety. Second, make sure all employees can relate to the various components of the program. I find that keeping it simple is best. Third, I have found that small group meetings work better than large group. Therefore, safety programs should include small group meetings to emphasize new safety initiatives. The best person to deliver a safety message is the employee’s immediate supervisor who should regularly reinforce safety messages. Finally, I believe that incorporating a mentoring program into your safety efforts is beneficial. As your program grows, you will see safety leaders emerge. These leaders can help mentor and coach new employees in an effort to keep the organization’s culture focused on safety.

NC:Knowing what your work force and worksite’s potential risks and hazards are is the first step. Have a qualified safety professional (internal or third party) conduct a thorough survey of your worksite. Be sure to ask your employees what they are experiencing and be sure that past safety claims are reviewed as well. Second, draw up a plan that addresses your findings and that looks to prevent future issues. Third, be sure all employees, no matter tenure or management level, are properly trained based on their job requirements. Ensuring each and every employee fully understands the program will go a long ways towards a safer workplace. Next, periodically review your safety program to make sure that your industry and specific site’s standards are being effectively followed. Continue to review safety claims, keep an open door policy with your employees and staying current on industry regulations will help to keep your program effective. Finally, make a spectacle of safe habits, new safety records or special instances of safety. When employees see that management is making note of what is happening, everyone wins.


Is there a time when safety is more important?

WF: Safety is always important—24/7/365.  Many companies see a spike in incidents and injuries during the summer months. The increase is due to a number of factors including employee fatigue from higher temperature and higher humidity, increased pedestrian traffic as children are out of school, increased motor vehicle traffic and higher waste volumes. During the summer, safety messages should focus on:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Understand the signs of heat related illnesses
  • Get an appropriate amount of rest/sleep
  • Watch for children.
  • Use your helper when backing the truck.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Do not use your cell phone or send text messages while driving.
  • Wear your Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) including your high-visibility vest.

NC:Safety is always important.  Making sure that safety is top of mind every day.  There may be a greater tendency to relax after a long run of no incidents or with growth in your business resulting in new employees, or with a change in business processes.  During these situations getting the safety message out and reminding folks of their role in maintaining a safe workplace is especially important!


Will Flowercan be reached through his Web site at www.willflower.com.


Nick Collins can be reached at (937) 684-9332 or visit www.RitzSafety.com