Waste industry sees increase in fatalities, data shows

Waste industry sees increase in fatalities, data shows

SWANA and NWRA react to BLS data showing an increase in on-the-job fatalities in waste and recycling professions.

December 17, 2019

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its 2018 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report Dec. 17. The report shows that waste management and remediation services professions as a whole accounted for 95 deaths in 2018 (compared with 63 in 2017). Waste management and remediation services is the blanket term that encompasses waste collection, waste treatment and disposal and remediation and other waste management services professions. Waste collection saw 65 deaths in 2018 compared with 10 in waste treatment and disposal and 20 in remediation and other waste management services.

On a more granular level, solid waste refuse and recyclable material collection remains the fifth deadliest job in the United States. By individual industry category, solid waste collection workers suffered 57 on-the-job fatalities, compared to 32 the year before. This represents a 78 percent increase in deaths in just one year. Solid waste landfills had three fatalities in 2018 compared with six in 2017. There were also 3 worker fatalities at material recovery facilities (MRFs) in 2018.

“The BLS 2018 fatality data for the industry is not surprising, as we have been telling [Solid Waste Association of North America] (SWANA) members and others in the industry that we had identified an increase in fatal incidents last year since we recorded 19 of them in January 2018,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman says. “The increased strength of the economy in 2018 may have played a role in the higher number of fatal incidents, as volumes increased. Smaller private sector haulers have a disproportionate number of these tragic events, and we encourage them to take advantage of SWANA’s safety resources.”

“We are disappointed to see such an increase in solid waste collection worker fatalities in 2018, but remain resolute in our efforts to turn it around,” Dennis Batts, emergency operations and safety program manager for the Fairfax County, Virginia Division of Solid Waste and SWANA safety committee vice chair, says. “We will continue to rally together to make this industry and its workers safer—and efforts like SWANA’s Hauler Safety Outreach Program and the National Alliance signed in September 2019 between the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Waste & Recycling Association and SWANA will help to focus those efforts on the risks that pose the greatest danger to solid waste employees and the public they serve.”

“The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) is saddened by the increase in fatalities in the industry. NWRA and our members are committed to improving safety in our industry and we will never accept any loss of life,” NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith says in response to the data.

In November, BLS released its 2018 employer-reported injury and illness data, which showed an increase in solid waste collection employee incident rates and reductions for employees at solid waste landfills and MRFs.