On Thursday, SWANA held their first virtual Safety Summit, a half-day event that shared industry data on injuries and fatalities as well as explored how professionals can help improve collection and post-collection safety. Industry leaders also discussed the pandemic response and lessons learned.

The summit kicked off with a pre-conference session by Ryan Fogelman of Fire Rover, discussing controlling fires at waste and recycling facilities and going over highlights of his annual report, which will be out in March. He touched on some of the statistics of the past year including the number of facility fires both in the U.S. and in other countries, cause of fires, materials most vulnerable, how much facilities lose annually as a result and more. He pointed out the goal is to minimize the risk of fires. He worked with Insurance Office of America on steps to bringing insurers back to the industry and the importance of needing a proper fire/disaster plan and complementing that with a fire management system, like Fire Rover, in order to drop the risk.

A formal welcome was given by SWANA CEO, David Biderman, who told attendees what to expect from the summit. This event would allow people to hear from safety leaders in the solid waste industry, especially on the topics of what you can do to prevent injuries and improving your agency’s performance. He pointed out that SWANA is contacted frequently to speak on a wide variety of issues. Nothing we do is more important of safety. We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of when this pandemic began and whether you work at a large company or small, no matter what your job is, we all have a single goal—we want to get them home to their families at the end of the day safely. He encouraged attendees to take full advantage of SWANA resources, especially the new Safety Matters newsletter, which provides guidance and information for frontline workers. Biderman also thanked the 58 safety ambassadors who serve as conduit for information from SWANA and relays news to their chapters. Finally, he recognized the sponsors and SWANA staff for great work on putting this on this summit.

Biderman then introduced Jim Frederick, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, who relayed a special message. He said he was pleased to join these leaders and stressed that it is imperative we work together. In February, OSHA increased protections for workers and updated guidance for COVId 19 as well as developed prevention programs that are tailored to each industry and provided a multi-lingual outreach campaign during the pandemic. He said he was honored to work with SWANA in order to protect workers and encouraged employers to share OSHA and other online resources on keeping workers safe. Safety leaders from top level management need to show workers that they are serious about maintaining safe workplaces. And finally, he said thank you for implementing safety and health programs in your companies. OSHA is committed to making jobs safer so all workers can go home safe and healthy.

Next up, Suzanne Sturgeon, Health and Safety Manager at SCS Engineers, spoke about spending last 12 months navigating COVID related matters like many others in the industry. There was a focus on basic survival, a culture shift and it became an all hands on deck effort to provide a consistent message, which was to wear your mask, wash your hands, look at contact tracing and possible exposures, evaluating safe ways to get employees back to work and practicing social distancing. She said we needed to reinvigorate our safety culture. Employees were willing to accept the risk, but then faced the consequences. They felt isolated and stretched to cover sick employees’ workloads. Today, we have a better understanding of the situation, but there are still voids and uncertainties. In the industry, we are fortunate that we have continued to work. She stressed the need to talk with your employees about acceptable risk. The news of the pandemic is a constant distraction—help each other stay safe. Don’t let someone else’s acceptable risk become yours. She called for attendees to join her in this commitment to maintain culture of safety as a value and send workers safely home at the end of their shift.

2020 Safety Statistics Report

After introductions, Jesse Maxwell took the time to give highlights on SWANA’s 2020 Safety Statistics Report, pointing out that they will be sharing a written version later next week. For several years SWANA has been tracking industry data, both in collection and post-collection side. While it does overlap with labor statistics, SWANA’s report includes more categories as well as third party categories. Data comes from online research, SWANA members, Chapters and trade publications.

In 2020, by far, the #1 cause of accidents was between collection vehicles and residential vehicles. Worker fatalities were similar to 2019, which was 52 (does not include COVID related deaths), worker fatalities by worksite had the most coming from collection/driving (36). He particularly emphasized mechanical/maintenance as an area of concern, pointing out the need to make garages safer. The leading causes of fatalities were Collision, Single Vehicle and Struck by Waste Vehicle. Third Party fatalities took a huge drop from from 2018 (101 to 7). The report also breaks down fatalities by month, fatalities by state (top affected were New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania) and other important sections.

Building a Best in Class Safety Program

As the winners of the Most Improved at the SWANA Safety awards this year, Leck Waste Services Safety Compliance Director, John Andel shared how they accomplished this important honor. The company began by working with National Interstate Insurance Company’s Waste Captive Program. They joined because they were paying higher premiums in the industry and they felt this was a better option. They were able to turn their savings back into investing in the company and employees. The first time National Interstate came to their site and did a risk analysis, they made recommendations; the second audit scored 34/35 and the third audit was a perfect score. Now, they have less safety issues and their insurance premium has been lower. Andel pointed out that at Leck, they make safety personal. He stressed that you have to take a proactive approach to safety. Spend time with people and let them know why we are doing it this way, take better approaches, include defensive driving training. You must create a culture of safety with every employee invested and dedicated for it to work. Talk to your employees about mistakes so you can prevent them from becoming bad habits. He talked about the role of technology. Not only does Leck use safety cameras on their trucks, but they also use telematics to help identify issues with the trucks. They also have scale systems on all of their trucks. Every stop has a picture snapped when they service it, so they can  show the customers when needed. All of those things work together to make a big difference. He also spoke of their Safety Employee of the Month program and stressed to recognize successes as a group. Companies need to take a good look at the employees they have and measure their employee retention. This industry has a high turnover rate. Leaders must be invested. When you are able to turn that in the other direction, it will lead to your success.

Collection Safety Session 

Next, Shawn Mandel, Vice President of Safety, Waste Connections and Jim Olson, Vice President of Safety for Republic spoke on collection safety. Mandel discussed the evolution of technology. While safety is paramount in any company’s operation, there should also be a push in technology to create safer environments for those operating vehicles. He pointed out that one technology, machine vision, has the ability to see and recognize objects and human behavior using images. AI includes all machine intelligence including collision, etc. We must proactively address risk and enable drivers to self-correct with in-cab experience. At Waste Connections, there is a minimum 10-day driver process but doesn’t stop there. Training must be ongoing because they are perishable skill and they need to be reinforced on a regular basis

Olson talked about Republic’s Safety Amplified program, where everyone is a safety leader and makes it a priority. The components to this program include Focus Together, Leading Together, Partner Together, Innovate Together, Analyze Together and Celebrate Together. He said we need to get to the point where safety is the first choice and it is not being sacrificed for something else. Management must let their employees know what the expectations are as well as hold employees responsible. Supervisors need to engage with frontline employees and be committed to coaching. Practice 0-3-2-1 Backing rules: never back with a helper on the step, always at idle speed, ensure mirrors and cameras are properly adjusted and clean, eliminate distractions and only focus on the maneuver, always check for kids and pedestrians before moving. 0 is don’t back unless you have to, 3 is listening to the three beeps of back up alarm, 2 is Tap the horn twice, and 1 is Check Your mirrors and camera one more time. Finally, be aware of traffic before dismounting from a truck or piece of equipment, always wear PPE, and use proper lifting techniques, especially with rear load operations and heavy items. Olson wrapped up by going over how COVID affected safety and operations and will continue to affect it. He also stressed focusing on training and investing in employees in order to keep employee retention.

Post-Collection Safety Session

With regards to post-collection safety, Jerry Peters, OSHA Compliance Manager for Rumpke Waste and Clay Layne, Waste Application Specialist at Caterpillar each spoke about safety awareness. Peters talked about using Job Safety Analysis (JSA) to understand the job—what are the steps that employees do at the landfill? Risks can be assessed by performing a JSA. This should include: Review of job description. Site assessment, Interviews with employees, Identifying risks, etc. Use education and training to empower employees through classroom, practical application (on the job), and evaluation (showing that you can do it). Observations are powerful tools employers should use effectively. A good observation can ensure understanding, safety, follow-up training, assigning tasks, education and training provided is correct. Don’t forget to follow up and close the loop. After the observation has been completed, follow up with employees. This should include, a review of the JSA, policy or procedure, open conversations, and discussing what was right and where improvements can happen.

Layne emphasized the importance of remaining safe on or around heavy equipment. There are three causes of accidents: 1) Weather, 2) Machine – some type of failure, and 3) Human element. Ninety percent of all landfill accidents results from improper maintenance or walkaround, slips, trips and falls, running into something or not seeing it, not thinking ahead and not paying attention. Start with a thorough walkaround inspection and make sure your machine is ready. Steps to a good walkaround are: start in the same place every time, make it a routine, look up, down, under and around, report any deficiencies. In addition, check all systems, look for cracked welds, loose lug nuts, or bolts, black marks, remove any built up debris, look at the seatbelt condition and date of install, visual scan or work area, system checks (brakes). Make sure employees climb on machine correctly using three points of contact plus shift to neutral, set parking brake, look at area you are stepping into (75 percent of all injuries to operators on a job are from mounting/dismounting incorrectly). Inside the cab, replace seatbelt every three years and keep the cab clean. Learn and know your machine’s safety features, operating and maintenance characteristics, capabilities and limitations, location and functions of all controls. Also look at situational awareness; be alert for airborne materials fire hazards, other machines, and people. Employ the three point scan technique: Look in Reverse before moving in Reverse, Never let cameras or technology make you complacent.

Fighting COVID Fatigue: Managing the Pandemic and Planning for the Future

Jeff Martin from Waste Management talked about their experiences during this pandemic. From the beginning, there were already many safety protocols in place, including PPE and washing hands, but they had to do more rose to the occasion. They used industrial hygienists, epidemiologists and other public health experts. They established core interventions, a crisis management team, evaluated COVID-related organizational issue and daily developments, coordinated development of dissemination of exposure risk reduction intervention, and shared regular communication of COVID-updates—all of these steps put WM in a better position to lead. What is future going to hold? Gloves, handwashing and sanitizing will remain and realized synergies will become new standards, digitalization efficiencies, travel restrictions will become new qualification standards, well-being programs will continue to remain popular, meeting arrangements will change, there will be regular standardized cleaning and disinfection, as well as adjustment to customs, handshaking, health screening for general illness, new expectaions for reporting to work sick, remote work preferences and flexibility, real estate synergies/consolidations, and importance of environmental health practitioners.

Ellen Smyth from City of El Paso spoke about her experiences during the pandemic as well, asking what happens when the entire staff calls in sick? You have to prepare a draw down plan. There were three areas of concern – citizen collection sites, collections and landfill. El Paso was hit very hard with COVID, with 1,300 new cases every day in the city at one point and 60 employees out with COVID, but they were lucky to have no fatalities in the Department. When you are picking up trash and are on the frontline, it becomes very real. They ended up suspending the recycling program for two months, which resulted in unhappy residents because the closures were from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. She stressed that despite these challenges, they are resilient and keep being El Paso strong while adjusting with times.


Biderman wrapped up a great summit with four points:

1) COVID Fatigue – Workers are understandably eager to get back to normal, but we need to keep in mind that there are still new cases every day. We need to be leaders by listening and being empathic, as well as communicating with them that it is not the time to stop everything, model good behavior.

2) Vaccines – They have not been uniformly distributed across the U.S. and Canada in a consistent manner. Different states developed their own plans. Many groups in the industry stressed the importance of the industry via comments and letters to state and federal government representatives about being in group 1B; however, the industry is still classified as 1C in most of the U.S. Currently, group 1B is starting to get vaccinated in a couple of states, while group 1C will be later in the spring and early summer.

3) Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated – People are concerned, so how do we convince workers that this is a good thing? We have to create a written policy; other companies have decided that they will reward their employees to get vaccinated or give them paid time off. Educate your employees and frame the vaccine as: you are not only doing it for you but also for the public good.

4) Can Employers Require Employees to Get Vaccinated – Yes, but there are exceptions (pregnant, disabled, etc.). However, don’t mandate, strongly encourage.

At the end of the summit attendees had a chance to Meet the Speakers and network with others at the event to discuss the day’s topics and ask additional questions. The Safety Summit was a valuable learning experience and we look forward to the next SWANA event.

For more information, visit https://swana.org.