Trucks at Work

Safety for the trash man … and John Q. Public

Collecting garbage is one of those vital everyday jobs that is simultaneously shunned and taken for granted.

Let’s face it: no one wants to pilot a trash truck packed with the smelly residue of daily American life – especially in the summer, when the heat makes the stuff all the more noxious to collect and transport.

But it’s a must-do job – one with major repercussions if it’s not performed each and every day.

However, it’s also work with a risk factor that seems to get higher and higher every year – both for refuse workers and the general public alike.

In fact, a total of 33 fatalities occurred among refuse and recyclable material collectors in 2013, according to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Most of these fatalities are the result of workers being struck by vehicles,” noted John Haudenshield, director of safety at the National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA).

Indeed, the group stressed back in March that getting the general public to slow down around refuse vehicles is big challenge – one that won’t be easy to solve.

Steve Changaris (at left), NW&RA’s New York City chapter manager, recently fleshed out the safety picture for refuse industry workers in more detail – especially where the trash truck crews are concerned.

And his take on waster worker safety in the Big Apple – especially in terms of the role the general public plays in that process – is worth the read.

“Every day, thousands of waste and recycling collection workers navigate the streets of New York City’s boroughs performing an important public health service,” Changaris said. “The men and women operating these trucks take great pride in their work and know they have a responsibility to practice the safest behaviors possible.”

He noted that today’s refuse vehicles are typically equipped with cameras and other technology that capture the activity happening in and around them, which serves as “valuable material” in his words to help trash industry workers deal with the dangers they face on the road.

“Our drivers strive to uphold the very best in safety protocols, procedures, regulations, standards and performance,” Changaris emphasized. “These safety practices are not only encouraged by our members, we demand and expect them.”

Yet while so much of the responsibility to keep people safe lies in the hands of refuse industry workers, he stressed the general public also has an important role to play.

“Few people consider that the daily risks taken by waste and recycling collection employees picking up our refuse in our neighborhoods and city streets involves more than a few stops, and they face increased dangers of being involved in an accident,” Changaris pointed out.

“Unfortunately, some passenger car drivers are often impatient or distracted while driving and fail to slow down when passing sanitation trucks just as they would otherwise take caution around school buses or approaching emergency vehicles,” he said. “And many accidents are often caused by cars, cyclists and pedestrians who are simply not paying attention.”

Changaris pointed to one tragic incident in which an NYC pedestrian got killed by running into the street directly in the path of a collection vehicle. 

“Video footage from a nearby storefront showed that there was no way the driver of the truck could have seen the pedestrian before the accident,” he noted. “While our drivers are taking every possible precaution to avoid accidents, communities need to also do their part and practice common sense when sharing the road with sanitation trucks. As the trucking industry has said for some time, ‘if you can’t see the driver, the driver can’t see you.’”

A strong reminder that any job involving big commercial trucks requires a heightened sense of safety on the part of their operators and John Q. Public alike.

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