SWANA reports big increase in worker fatalities in 2018

At least 59 solid waste industry workers died on the job in 2018 in the United States and Canada, according to an April 24 release from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). This number is an increase of 19 fatalities from the previous year. Fifty-seven of these fatalities took place in the U.S., and 71 percent of them occurred during waste or recycling collection.

In reviewing data collected from various sources, SWANA found that “struck-by” incidents were the most common cause of fatality, followed by collisions and roll-over incidents. Together, these represented nearly 50 percent of all worker deaths. About 10 percent of victims were on the riding step when the fatality occurred. The cause of deaths at landfills, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and transfer stations were more diverse than in collection, though being struck by heavy machinery or lockout/tagout (LO/TO) failures were common.

“The industry’s safety record in 2018 was not acceptable, with at least 19 more worker fatalities than in 2017,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman says. “Most of last year’s increase involved collection workers despite the industry’s success in getting states to pass Slow Down to Get Around laws and efforts by SWANA and others to improve safety on the route, as well as at post-collection facilities.

“SWANA calls on local governments, private companies and others to devote more resources to safety and protecting the lives of those who work in the industry,” Biderman adds.

Fatalities among members of the public increased slightly in 2018 from 95 to 101 deaths. These incidents involved the solid waste industry in some fashion, most frequently via a traffic collision with a collection vehicle. About 75 percent of the victims were drivers or passengers at the time, and about 14 percent were on a motorcycle or bicycle. Pedestrian deaths represented another 11 percent of all fatalities involving a member of the public.

Including both workers and members of the public, January had the most fatalities in 2018, with 19 for the month, followed by March with 18. Only in September and November 2018 were more solid waste workers killed than members of the public.

“The 2018 data are of concern to our safety ambassadors throughout the United States and Canada,” says Matt Morales, the Arizona SWANA chapter safety ambassador and project manager for the Flagstaff, Arizona-based Cinder Lake Landfill. “While it is difficult to learn of the increased fatalities, it strengthens our dedication to turning the industry around. It’s obvious that we need to increase our effectiveness on this matter. We need more real-time data on trending accidents and incidents in our states, regions and provinces. SWANA’s Arizona chapter is forming an alliance with the Arizona Department of Safety and Health to provide members with more readily available access to trends. Having access to this data will allow us to keep our eyes on the windshield rather than looking through the rearview mirror.”

Morales adds, “To increase awareness and accountability, SWANA safety ambassadors are tasked with bringing safety training events to our drivers. SWANA chapters are holding hauler safety outreach events in their states and provinces. These events provide the chance for us to reach out to both private haulers and municipal collection operators. Importantly, it helps them know that we care about them. Finally, the event is unique because each attendee is given the opportunity to take the SWANA Safety Pledge. For operators, the pledge is a demonstration that SWANA stands behind their efforts to be safe out on the road.”

On April 28, SWANA honored the men and women who have died on the job during Workers Memorial Day. During this time, the organization reflects not only on those who have died, but also on how the association can keep the hundreds of thousands of industry workers safe.

For more information on SWANA's safety program, visit swana.org/safety.