BLS data show an increase in fatalities at landfills and MRFs in 2020

Fatalities at material recovery facilities increased slightly from three in 2019 to four in 2020, while solid waste landfills saw six fatalities in 2020.

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the 2020 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, showing refuse and recyclable materials collection remains the sixth deadliest occupation in the U.S.

While this ranking has remained unchanged since last year, the report notes that total collection worker fatalities have continued to decline. The workplace fatality rate for this group fell to 33.1 in 2020 from 35.2 in 2019.

“SWANA is very pleased BLS has confirmed SWANA’s data showing a decline in collection worker fatalities in 2020. This continues a trend that started in 2019 and has accelerated this year,” says David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). “Our Safety Ambassadors program, Hauler Safety Outreach initiatives and other safety activities appear to be paying dividends, and we expanded our safety offerings in 2021 by adding a very successful weekly safety newsletter. The goal is to reduce worker fatalities and get waste collection employees out of the top 10 list.”

Biderman adds that SWANA will continue to work with its members and industry partners to improve the solid waste industry’s safety performance and provide educational resources and leadership on this important industry issue.

Solid waste collection saw a reduction in workplace fatalities in 2020, with 38 collection employee deaths. This continues a downward trend from 57 in 2018 and 43 in 2019.

Fatalities at material recovery facilities (MRFs) increased slightly from three in 2019 to four in 2020. Solid waste landfills saw six fatalities in 2020, while BLS recorded none the previous year. According to data collected by SWANA, however, at least two landfill workers were killed on the job in 2019.

Regardless, the association states this portion of the industry saw a steady decline over the previous five years.

Notably, the BLS fatality census does not report any illness-related information, including COVID-19. Fatal workplace illnesses not caused by an injury are not within the scope of this report.

“Solid waste is a dangerous industry on so many levels, and we must collectively work to bring awareness to those most vulnerable to injury or worse," says Suzanne Sturgeon, SCS Engineers’ safety manager and SWANA National Safety Committee Chair. “As an industry, we have tools in place to help with this process, and SWANA is a great resource. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get started and can rely on our allies in the industry to help us make a difference.”

“It is positive to hear our industry remains out of the top five deadliest occupations in the United States,” says Amberlyn Melton Liles, superintendent of environmental services for the city of Oxford, Mississippi, and safety ambassador for the SWANA Magnolia Chapter. “In every industry, accidents will happen. The solid waste industry must continue to promote employee and public safety diligently to move out of the top ten deadliest occupations in the United States.”

SWANA plans to release the results of its own 2021 fatality survey in early 2022.
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