NIOSH Releases Solid Waste Industry Fact Sheet

The largest number of occupational injuries in the private sector occurred among workers in the transportation and material moving job class which includes truck drivers and collection laborers.

The solid waste industry (Waste Management and Remediation, NAICS 562) consists of three groups: Collection, Treatment and Disposal, and Other Waste Remediation Services.

In 2010, approximately 478,000 workers were employed in the solid waste industry with about 355,000 in private industry. About 72,500 of the private waste industry employees are classified as Refuse and Recyclable Materials Collectors and 49,000 collection workers are employed by local government agencies. Occupational traumatic injury fatality data for 2003-2009 have been published for public and private sector workers but occupational injury and illness data for this period are available only for private sector workers.

Days-away-from-work (DAFW) injuries and illnesses are those that cause workers to be absent from work at least one day beyond the day of the event. The overall DAFW rate for the private solid waste industry declined by 48 percent between 2003 and 2009, from 347 per 10,000 workers to 184 per 10,000 workers. The comparable rate for all U.S. industries in 2009 was 106 per 10,000 workers. The median DAFW for the private waste industry varied between 6 and 11 days over the 2003-2009 period.

The largest number of occupational injuries in the private sector occurred among workers in the transportation and material moving job class which includes truck drivers and collection laborers. This job class consists of 162,000 (46 percent) workers, yet they recorded about 75 percent of the DAFW occupational injuries and illnesses in the waste industry sub sector since 2003.

The most common events associated with the injuries were contact with objects and equipment and overexertion. Being struck by objects and equipment and lifting, respectively, accounted for most of these injuries.

The private and public solid waste industry recorded 599 fatal traumatic occupational injuries between 2003 and 2009—an average of 85 fatalities each year. More than 85 percent of these fatalities were attributed to the private sector which experienced a substantial drop in the number of fatalities in 2009. The number of fatalities in the public sector has remained relatively unchanged during this period.

Transportation incidents, such as collisions and rollovers, were the leading events for occupational fatalities in all three industry groups. Collection workers have been struck and killed by other motorists. Contact with objects and equipment was the second leading cause of fatalities in each of the industry groups. This category includes being struck by, struck against, or caught in objects and equipment.

Also, about 25 percent of all workers in the solid waste industry are Refuse and Recyclable Materials Collection workers (SOC 53-708), and they experienced 36 percent of the total fatalities. Traumatic injury fatalities were much lower in 2009 among all workers other than collection workers in the waste industry, yet these workers continued to account for well over half of the deaths.

In each year between 2003 and 2009, the waste collection industry group experienced the greatest number of fatalities among the three private sector groups. All three groups had fewer fatalities in 2009 than in the previous years when similar data are available. Industry-group specific data for public sector workers are not available.

Effective health and safety programs that include hazard recognition and controls can reduce occupational injuries and illnesses and improve work conditions in the waste industry, NIOSH says.

  • Implement comprehensive health and safety programs.
  • Develop a positive safety culture that emanates from the top management.
  • Establish joint management/employee health and safety committees.
  • Conform with consensus industry standards such as ANSI Z245.1 through Z245.7A.
  • Use automated collection vehicles when feasible.
  • Utilize lifting equipment when possible to limit overexertion exposures.
  • Evaluate safety practices during waste collection and control all recognized hazards.
  • Complete health and safety training for all new employees.
  • Conduct task specific worker training that is repeated at regular intervals.

Click here to read the entire fact sheet.

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