Safety Matters – SWANA’s 2020 Report Reveals Need for Improvement

Working in the solid waste industry continues to be a very dangerous job, as the industry was involved in more than 120 fatal incidents in the United States and Canada last year. At its virtual Safety Summit in late February, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) reported that 52 municipal solid waste industry workers were killed on-the-job in 2020, with nearly 70 percent occurring during collection.

The most common type of fatal event was a single vehicle accident in which only a waste collection vehicle was involved. The second most common fatality was being struck by a waste collection vehicle, either as a helper or when a driver was out of the cab. This suggests that rushing may be contributing to these tragic incidents, and that reminding collection crews of best practices for safety is needed.

This frequency of fatal incidents involving collection workers and trucks has continued unabated into 2021, with about 30 fatal incidents recorded in the first three months of the year.

Collection fatalities remained steady in 2020 compared to 2019 and were down from 2018 when 42 occurred. Fatal incidents at landfills fell from 11 in 2019 to 4 in 2020, and material recovery facilities (MRFs) similarly saw a drop in worker deaths from 4 in 2019 to 1 last year. Fatalities at transfer stations increased from 1 in 2019 to 3 in 2020. 

In addition to worker fatalities, SWANA tracks events in which a member of the public is killed in a solid waste related incident. In 2020, 76 members of the public in the United States and Canada were killed in collisions with a solid waste collection vehicle, with about 62 percent being vehicle collisions. The past year saw slightly fewer fatalities than 2019 when there were 80 and continues the decline from 2018 when 101 members of the public died.

View interactive Google Map here.

At the state level, New York had the most fatal incidents with 15, followed by California with 12, Texas with 11, Pennsylvania with 9, and Florida with 8. New York and California have both been in the top five states in number of fatalities for the past three years.

To reduce fatal and non-fatal incidents across the solid waste industry, SWANA has developed a growing variety of safety resources. SWANA’s latest addition is a weekly newsletter, Safety Matters, which makes relevant safety guidance easily accessible to front-line employees and workers at all levels. SWANA encourages members to use it at safety meetings and toolbox talks to remind workers of safety hazards associated with solid waste management and how to avoid them. If you are interested in receiving Safety Matters, or if your company is interested in advertising in the SWANA safety newsletter, please contact David Biderman, SWANA’s Executive Director, at dbiderman@swana.org.

Equipment manufacturers can play a critical role in improving the industry’s safety record. They do this by making the trucks and components safer, and by communicating the importance of safety on a regular basis to their solid waste customers.

SWANA will be holding another Safety Summit in early November in Orlando, Florida, in conjunction with WASTECON. For more information about the Safety Summit, contact Jesse Maxwell at jmaxwell@swana.org

To learn more about SWANA’s Safety Initiatives, visit https://swana.org/initiatives/safety.