Why your customers and members of the public need safety training.
In 2017, there were 132 fatalities in the solid waste industry. Of those fatalities, 94 involved a customer or member of the public, according to data released by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).1Despite these staggering statistics, most customers at waste facilities and members of the public receive little to no safety training. Customers visit a waste facility without awareness of the risks related to heavy equipment, scavenging and traffic flow. Members of the public are unaware of the dangers involved when speeding around a collections truck or biking into a truck’s blind spot. At transfer stations and MRFs, customers might have to dump trash over an edge or into a compactor and might be tempted to scavenge in the waste for reusable items.
Your customers might include collections haulers, local community members bringing in yard waste in a pickup, or contractors bringing in a pickup truck of construction and demolition debris. Some may visit your site multiple times a day and some may be entering a waste facility for the very first time. And for collections drivers, all members of the public are essentially their “customers.” Regardless of who they are, most customers have no clue what they are getting themselves into.
A comprehensive safety education program can reduce accidents and fatalities among customers and keep your crew and equipment safe. In today’s technology-driven world, there are myriad options to reach your customers. The key is to develop an integrated strategy, create specific goals, and identify the communication channels your customers use.
Safety Policies for Customers
Does your operation have safety policies in place that are targeted to customers and, more importantly, do you have methods of enforcing these policies? Policies that prohibit scavenging, smoking and speeding are only effective if they are communicated clearly and enforced consistently.
Waste facility workers receive training on equipment safety, personal protective equipment and confined space safety, but they may not understand their role when it comes to keeping customers safe.
Your gatehouse staff should be clearly communicating all safety policies to customers. But communication cannot stop at the gatehouse. Every single member of your crew—from the spotters to the equipment operators—need to be on the same page when it comes to customer safety policies.
Are the signs at your facility clean and clear? Do they clearly communicate directional and safety guidance to your customers? Signs that contain too much text can end up being a safety hazard. And if many of your customers don’t speak and read English, not having signs in their native language means they are left in the dark when it comes to safety rules at your facility.
Ask someone who has never been to your site before how well they could read the signs and whether or not they were able to follow posted directions. You and your staff know your site intimately, but a customer visiting your site—or a waste facility in general—for the first time will need clear, simple signage to help them find their way safely and without frustration.
A customized safety video will give customers a preview of what to expect as they enter your facility and proceed to the unloading areas. Overhead drone footage, shots showing the entrance of the waste facility, and details on the facility’s specific safety policies can provide customers with the information they need to have a safe visit.
Website and Social Media
Your Web site, social media platforms and mobile apps can provide practical, current information on safety risks and rules at your facility. Your Web site is often the very first contact a customer will have with your facility. Do not miss that opportunity to incorporate safety tips and rules throughout your Web site.
A well-designed Web site can serve as a resource for customers. Safety videos, lists of hazardous and prohibited materials, and information about your facility can help your customers keep safety a priority.
Even tried-and-true education tools like printed brochures, clear signage and verbal communication play crucial roles in improving customer safety.
When it comes to social media, less is more. Less is also more manageable. Every social media platform requires consistent monitoring. Customers might be reaching out with questions or complaints, and left ignored, comments will be publicly viewed by anyone looking for information about your site. At the very least, your site should have a Facebook business page, with information like location, hours, and accepted materials clearly posted and regularly updated.
Education and Outreach
If you own or operate a facility, safety training is relatively straightforward. Every customer that enters your facility must pass by an employee, and there are several opportunities to reach your customers. However, if you run a collections operation, customer safety training gets a lot trickier. Many of the members of the public your employees interact with are not even customers. Your drivers must navigate busy city streets and deal with distracted drivers, rushing pedestrians, and curious schoolchildren.
Safety training for the general public can be accomplished through events in schools and community centers. Your trucks can become safety signage, with stickers or truck billboards providing safety reminders and tips for the public. For your customers, a simple flyer or sticker on their bin can provide regular safety information. Reaching out to your customers via social media and asking them to share posts and photos will help spread your safety message beyond your customer base.
Some waste facilities will hold training events directed at collections drivers, using the promise of a free lunch as a mechanism to get drivers in front of a safety training presentation. The key is to identify your target audiences and then reach them where they are.
Ultimately, customer safety might seem like it is not really your responsibility. However, in order to protect your crew, your equipment and your facility, you have to be willing to be a player in the process of educating your customers about safety.
Sarah Bolton is the New Business Development Manager at Blue Ridge Services and oversees safety training development and distribution. She has helped develop 200+ safety training videos for waste facility staff and customers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.