Sanitation Worker Safety

Sanitation workers have incredibly stressful jobs. These women and men play a vital role in our society, and their safety should be a top priority. A new study released by Safety and Health Magazine says that there were 30 sanitation worker deaths due to on-the-job injuries across North America in though the first half of 2019. Last year, there was a total of 59 sanitation worker deaths.

These numbers show only fatalities. We know that thousands of other sanitation workers are injured on-the-job each year and are left dealing with the consequences.

How do sanitation worker injuries occur?

Think about what kind of tasks that sanitation workers perform each day. They regularly jump on and off of large trucks. They frequently lift heavy objects. Many of the items sanitation workers handle are sharp, poisonous, or generally hazardous.

Some of the most common injuries that sanitation workers sustain include:

  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Broken or Dislocated Bones
  • Severe lacerations or amputations

We also need to keep in mind that there are other injuries that can occur aside from these common traumatic injuries. Workers may sustain hearing or vision loss due to exposure to loud noises and toxic materials. Repetitive stress injuries are very common among sanitation workers because they perform the same motions over and over again for long periods of time. In many cases, a sanitation worker’s injuries may not show signs and symptoms for years after being on-the-job.

On-the-job safety is the goal

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has several recommendations that are designed to help improve sanitation worker safety. This includes:

  • Never using cellphones while collecting trash, driving garbage trucks, or when at disposal facilities.
  • Ensuring that all workers buckle their seatbelts when in the sanitation truck.
  • All workers wearing personal protective equipment in high visibility colors. This equipment should be provided by the worker’s employer.
  • Sanitation employers should provide all necessary training to employees before allowing them to work.

Many modern garbage trucks use automated side-loaders. These can limit the dangers presented to workers caused by manual lifting and hazardous materials. These vehicles allow one worker to drive the truck and operate the side-loader, all without having to exit the vehicle. The SWANA also recommends that garbage trucks have rearview cameras installed to help enhance visibility for workers.

Drivers need to be careful around workers

When you are driving and are approaching a sanitation truck and workers, you need to operate carefully. This often means stopping behind a truck and waiting for them to move on. Try not to pass a sanitation truck if possible and never assume that workers or truck drivers see you approaching.

Who is responsible for worker injuries?

When a person is injured on-the-job, they should be entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. This is a “no-fault” system, which means a worker cannot be denied coverage, even if they contributed to their own injury. Workers’ compensation insurance is designed to help cover an injured worker’s medical expenses and lost income after an on-the-job injury.

Unfortunately, there are times when an injured workers’ employer or insurance carrier delays or denies a worker’s claim. When this happens, it may be necessary for a worker to secure help from an attorney to assist with the process.