The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, has released a report showing a reduction in solid waste worker deaths in 2021 in the United States and Canada. SWANA says industry fatalities fell by nearly 50 percent, continuing a downward trend that began in 2018. The accelerated reduction in worker fatalities was first noted by SWANA in June 2021.
“We are very pleased to report this good news on safety to the industry,” says David Biderman, SWANA CEO and executive director. “There likely are several contributing factors to the remarkable improvement last year and I suspect the increased focus on health and safety relating to COVID-19 was one of them.”
While the total number of worker fatalities was down, the leading causes of fatal incidents remained consistent. SWANA’s report shows the most common cause of collection worker fatalities involved trucks, either workers falling off them, being struck by them or the truck rolling over workers. Being hit by a third-party vehicle is the third leading cause of death for collection workers, as in 2020. For postcollection workers, being struck by waste trucks and yellow iron led to half of all fatalities.
For Canada specifically, SWANA did not record any worker fatalities in 2021 compared with three in 2020 and four in 2019.
About 80 percent of the worker fatalities occurred in the collection industry. Seven states represent 64 percent of all worker fatalities in the U.S. and Canada last year: Texas, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina and New Jersey.
Worker fatalities continue to follow similar trends over the past three years, with increases in March followed by a decrease into May. A large jump is seen in June and a gradual decline occurs during the second half of the year. This information could help companies and local governments determine when safety training might be most effective.
In addition to worker fatalities, SWANA also tracks events in which a member of the public is killed in a solid waste-related incident. There was an increase in the overall number of vehicle-related fatalities in 2021, and the solid waste industry was not immune from this trend.
SWANA says in nearly one-third of these incidents, the driver of the other vehicle crossed the center line and struck a waste vehicle or ran into a waste vehicle while stopped. The report suggests that distraction continues to contribute to a considerable number of third-party fatalities.
The organization will work to continue the reduction in worker fatalities and to reverse the trend in third-party fatalities through continued industry engagement. SWANA’s safety programming, including the Chapter Safety Ambassadors, weekly Safety Matters tip sheets for members and annual Safety Summit at Wastecon, provide ongoing resources for public and private solid waste operations of all sizes throughout the United States and Canada.
SWANA says it will be contacting private and public sector members in the coming weeks to determine whether there were similar improvements in other safety metrics in 2021.