As injury rates at materials recovery facilities (MRF) increase nationally, Athens Services’ Sun Valley (SV) MRF just north of Los Angeles and its employees have accomplished a safety record of 1,000-plus days with no lost-time injuries. As of Oct. 7, the record stood at 1,112 days and counting—more than three years.
According to a 2018 report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of reported MRF injuries nationwide increased by 60 percent in 2017. The BLS determined that MRFs have the fifth-highest rate of injury or illness across all industries. Overall, waste and recycling haulers are known as having one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.
With these alarming statistics serving as a daily reminder, the leadership team at Athens Services says it established safety and compliance as one of its 2018 Foundational Requirements to meet its 2019-2020 Key Objectives. Athens says in a news release that “safety first” is at the forefront of every strategic conversation as well as a focus of its employees. Athens says the goal is for everyone to go home safe to their families, adding that waste and recycling collection is a dirty job, but it doesn’t have to be unsafe.
With these statistics in mind, Athens Services launched a company-wide initiative in 2018 to put safety first—not just as a priority, but also as a core foundational component. While Athens launched the company-wide initiative in 2018, Athens says the SV MRF has been hyper-focused on safety since it opened in 2016.
“A key step in creating an effective safety culture is for all 1,500 Athens employees to be involved and engaged,” says Director of Safety Jaime Britt. As part of his safety monitoring, Jaime regularly conducts facility walk-throughs, sometimes without a safety vest to test how far into the facility he can get before someone stops him, offers a safety vest and redirects him to a safe zone.
“I have yet to make it more than a few steps before someone stops me,” Britt says. “As you walk through our facilities, everyone is aware, and everyone looks out for each other, from the managers to the floor sorters. We all have a stake in safety.
“Safety is about continuous improvement of our environment and our people,” Britt adds. “It’s about creating a safety-first culture where we focus on doing the right thing always. We call it ‘The Athens Way.’”
Britt says Athens’ culture of caring about people is what sets Athens apart from the other waste and recycling service providers.
“At every sorting station, Athens employees have access to a stop button,” says Johnnie Stevenson, general manager, who oversees the SV MRF operations. “If they see something hazardous, unsafe, or something that may cause injury, they have the autonomy to stop the sorting belt. This means stopping the entire workflow, ultimately impacting production.
“While this may decrease production rates, it fosters a safety culture, which sets Athens apart from other MRF operators.”
Athens attributes its MRF’s success and safety record to Stevenson’s leadership and focus on the core principles of the Athens Way.
The SV MRF sorts more than 1,500 tons of material daily, separating recyclables from waste and delivering what it says is one of the highest diversion rates in the region. The MRF operates two shifts per day, six days a week.
Athens operates several facilities in Southern California, including hauling yards in Pacoima, Torrance, Irwindale, and City of Industry. Founded in 1957, Athens was an early adopter of materials recovery, building one of the first few facilities in the country in the 1990s at its headquarters in the City of Industry.
That facility still operates today and is investing in technological advances to meet the growing demand for diversion of green and food waste.