SWANA responds to BLS fatal occupational injuries report

While the rate of fatalities fell in 2016, it is still one of the deadliest occupations.

December 19, 2017

Solid waste collection workers continued to have the fifth deadliest job in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The 2016 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries released December 19 shows that the rate of fatalities among waste collection workers decreased by more than 10 percent last year but has not changed the industry’s ranking among the deadliest occupations.

Solid waste collection workers had a rate of 34.1 fatalities per 100,000 full-time employees in 2016 compared with 38.8 in 2015. In 2016, 31 collection workers were killed on the job compared with 36 the year before.

SWANA (Solid Waste Association of North America, Silver Spring, Maryland) is pleased that the overall collection worker fatality rate declined a bit in 2016, but remains very concerned about the high frequency of fatal incidents involving solid waste workers and third-parties, such as other drivers or pedestrians.” David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO, says. “However, the sad truth is that we are still the fifth most dangerous job in America, with a higher workplace fatality rate than police officers or firefighters. This is no time to take a victory lap.”

With nine fatalities reported among solid waste landfill employees in 2016, that sector also saw a decrease in total fatalities from a high of 11 deaths in 2015. During the three years before that, landfills only recorded three fatalities per year, so the current numbers remain high compared with other years.

Fatality data for material recovery facility (MRF) workers in 2016 show one reported on-the-job death, though the overall data for this sector did not meet publication criteria, and therefore, no total was listed. In 2015, three fatalities occurred among MRF workers. In November, MRFs were listed by BLS as one of the 25 industries with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, restricted work or job transfer.

Though BLS data for 2017 will not be available until late 2018, SWANA has recorded more than 100 fatal incidents involving the waste sector in the U.S., with 30 waste workers and 70 third-parties killed this year.

"I, along with my SWANA colleagues, view even one waste worker fatality as way too many,” Ken Levine, SWANA NY safety ambassador and director of risk management at Action Carting, says. “Though movements such as 'Slow Down To Get Around' are creating some awareness surrounding the daily risks of collection workers, the industry needs the general public to understand how dangerous the work is and be aware of how their actions contribute to the daily safety of our workers.”

Small haulers continue to represent a disproportionate share of injuries and fatalities in the solid waste industry, and with that in mind, SWANA and its chapter-based safety ambassadors are developing a toolkit aimed at small haulers in their regions. Through special outreach events held at landfills, MRFs and transfer stations across North America, SWANA intends to provide safety resources in a variety of languages to the most vulnerable workers, reduce accidents and help move solid waste collection off the top-five list of deadliest jobs.