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For years, the waste and recycling industry has ranked among the most dangerous industries in the U.S. That trend continued in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the 2016 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released Dec. 19, 2017, shows the rate of fatalities among waste collection workers decreased by more than 10 percent in 2016, the industry remains the fifth deadliest.

Collision avoidance and behavioral analytics technologies can help reduce hauling-related injuries and fatalities, though providers say their tools alone cannot solve the industry’s safety issues.

Technological help

Tom Loutzenheiser, vice president of Preco Electronics, Boise, Idaho; Del Lisk, vice president of safety services for Lytx, San Diego; and Gary Mosier, vice president of national accounts for 3rd Eye, headquartered in Katy, Texas, participated in a panel discussion during the Safety Super Session at the Wastecon/ISWA World Congress. The conference was hosted by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Wien, Austria, in Baltimore Sept. 25-27, 2017. David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO, moderated the discussion.

Biderman asked the panelists why the waste and recycling industry was among the most dangerous in the U.S.

Loutzenheiser said he believed it was because workers are navigating urban environments in the biggest trucks available—a notion Lisk seconded.

“What other industry has their employees conducting their jobs in the flow of traffic?” Lisk said.

He also noted the difficult and long hours employees work, which contribute to fatigue.

Add to those difficult hours the extreme hot and cold environments that employees can work in, Lisk said, and you have many factors that contribute to a higher degree of risk.

While Mosier said automation and technology would be keys to reducing accidents in the industry, they would not go far enough on their own. It also was necessary to reduce driver hours and to hire better drivers, Mosier said.

Cultural cues

The panelists agreed that company culture plays a significant role in safety, with Mosier saying safety must start at the top with company and city leaders.

Loutzenheiser said adequate training and support also are needed.

The industry has a “he-man mentality” that must be addressed, Lisk said, adding that employees take on things they shouldn’t because they believe there are “no babies in this industry.”

In the field

Given tight budgets, it’s important for municipalities and companies to be able to see a quick return on their investments in technologies intended to improve safety, the panelists said.

Loutzenheiser said Preco users usually see a return within two years.

Lisk cited the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, which saw a 250 percent return on its investment in Lytx’s technology in two years largely because of the reduction in liability claims.

However, Mosier reminded attendees that they must actually use collision avoidance and behavioral analytics technologies to benefit from them. “The ROI is dependent on you and your managers.”

Two examples of this technology from the field illustrate their potential impact.

Perry Mitrano is the solid waste director for Bunnell, Florida, the county seat of Flagler County. Despite its relatively small population of roughly 2,700 as of the 2010 census, Mitrano says the city’s service area is dense, with its two waste and recycling trucks making 1,200 stops to collect residential and commercial carts three days per week. Of these stops, 172 are at commercial accounts, with the city collecting about 1,200 cubic yards per day from these customers.

Mitrano’s goal in adding the Preco Electronics PreView Radar System to the city’s collection vehicles was “to try to eliminate human fault,” particularly when it came to backing. What stood out to him was the system’s ability to detect objects that were below the impact guard (ICC bar) of the truck, he says.

Mitrano recounts an incident that occurred when he was filling in for one of his drivers. He was preparing to back up in a condominium parking lot when the Preco system sounded. Mitrano was unable to see the object that was setting off the radar system as it was in a camera blind spot—the area between the bottom of the camera and the truck’s ICC bar, also known as the bubble. The object also was not visible in any of his vehicle’s mirrors.

Heeding the alarm, Mitrano put the vehicle in park and exited the cab, finding an elderly man crouching down directly behind the truck to pick up his keys.

“Backing accidents are the biggest worry,” Mitrano says, adding that the Preco system has “paid off time and time again.”

He says the system didn’t require much in the way of training as far as the drivers were concerned, equating it to when any one of us purchases a car equipped with similar technology. “There is no learning curve, except knowing you will hear the alarm, and it stops you from moving. It is so simple. That is beauty of having backup sensors on vehicles.”

Damon Tofte, Waste Connections risk and compliance manager, who is based in Iowa Park, Texas, says safety is his company’s No. 1 value. “It is at the very core of every decision we make first and foremost.”

The Woodlands, Texas-based company has been using DriveCam technology from Lytx since 2008, he says. The technology is deployed on all of Waste Connections’ on-road vehicles, including trucks used to haul waste and recyclables, support vehicles and pickup trucks. “We have deployed DriveCam units in almost 10,000 vehicles throughout the United States and Canada,” Tofte says.

The technology appealed to Waste Connections because it allowed the company “to see unsafe events through the exception-based technologies and leverage the video and analysis to coach drivers to be safer, better drivers,” Tofte says. “The ease of use for the online user interface was also a big plus.”

After nearly a decade of experience with the technology, Tofte says Waste Connections has accrued a number of benefits, including a “dramatic” reduction in collisions. “With the technology, managers and supervisors can see exception-based events, meaning triggers, and are then able to see what caused the camera to trigger,” he says. “With the video clips, we are then able to sit with and coach drivers. Video allows everyone to see what happened, and it allows us to build relationships with our drivers. These are win-wins.

“Our leadership team believes that video event recording technology has been the biggest factor in reducing collisions in our industry,” Tofte continues, noting it also helps with legal issues.

The author is managing editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.