The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Census of 2016 Fatal Occupational Injuries” reports 5,190 workplace fatalities occurred in 2016, a 7 percent increase from 2015. The fatal injury rate also increased from 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2015 to 3.6 in 2016. The census was based on data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Despite this overall increase, in the public and private waste and recycling industry, fatalities declined from 50 in 2015 to 42 in 2016.
“This should give our industry a little encouragement that our organizational commitment to a strong safety culture and our safety processes are having an impact,” NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith says in a news release responding to the OSHA data. He says the NWRA and its members will continue to look for opportunities to improve. “Zero is possible.”
Smith adds, “Since our board of trustees designated safety as a strategic initiative in 2015, NWRA has worked to provide its members with tools and outreach efforts including Safety Stand Downs and our Safety Professional Development Series, as well as collecting our own data from members to monitor trends in the industry. We are also preparing for additional programs in 2018.”
More workers lost their lives in transportation incidents than any other event in 2016, accounting for about 1 out of every 4 fatal injuries, OSHA says.
“In early 2016, NWRA convened an unprecedented industrywide Safety Summit to significantly reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities by building out sustainable prevention measures and engagement processes for a stronger industry safety culture,” NWRA National Safety Director Anthony Hargis says.
Over the past three years, NWRA and its chapters have championed “Slow Down to Get Around” legislation, which is now the law in 16 states and under consideration in several more. These laws require motorists slow down when waste and recycling collection vehicles are stopped and workers are getting on and off, just as motorists are required to slow down in construction work zones, stop for school buses and pull over for emergency vehicles.
The NWRA notes that fatalities declined at landfills and material recovery facilities (MRFs), while they remained the same in the waste collection industry. The refuse and recyclable material collector fatalities also declined to 31 as did the fatal work injury rate (34.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers); however, this occupation retained its position at the fifth most dangerous industry.
Looking more broadly at the OSHA report, workplace violence injuries increased by 23 percent, making it the second most common cause of workplace fatality. The report also shows the number of overdoses on the job increased by 32 percent in 2016, while the number of fatalities has increased by at least 25 percent annually since 2012.
Loren Sweatt, OSHA deputy assistant secretary, says, “Today’s occupational fatality data show a tragic trend with the third consecutive increase in worker fatalities in 2016—the highest since 2008. America’s workers deserve better.”
She adds that OSHA will address the trends revealed by the report through enforcement, compliance assistance, education and training and outreach.
“As President Trump recognized by declaring opioid abuse a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, the nation’s opioid crisis is impacting Americans every day at home and, as this data demonstrates, increasingly on the job.
“The Department of Labor will work with public and private stakeholders to help eradicate the opioid crisis as a deadly and growing workplace issue.”
The NWRA’s Hargis expresses the association’s desire to work with its members and partners to improve safety, saying, “NWRA is completely committed to achieving a positive and robust safety culture industrywide.”