Associations respond to latest BLS illness and injury data

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, says it is pleased by the decline in the frequency of injuries and illnesses involving waste collection employees but is concerned by the increase in injuries and illnesses for workers at landfills and material recovery facilities (MRF), based on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2016 data, released Nov. 9, 2017.

The BLS data show that private solid waste collection employees had a substantial decrease in injury and illness rates, while both landfill and MRF employees experienced increases in 2016. The solid waste collection employee injury and illness rate declined from 6.6 to 5.2 per 100 full-time employees (FTE), the lowest level in more than a decade.

However, the 2016 injury and illness rate for employees at landfills increased to 4.9, where it was in 2014; this is an increase from the 2015 rate of 3.5, and is consistent with a spike in fatal incidents at landfills in the U.S. during 2016 as tracked by SWANA.

MRF workers had an increase in injuries and illnesses last year, going from 5.1 per 100 FTE in 2015 to 6 in 2016. MRFs also made the list of top 25 industries with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, restricted work or job transfer, with a rate of 4.6.

“We are pleased by the decline in injury and illness rates among collection employees and intend to review the 2016 and 2015 data to better understand the reasons for the decrease,” David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO, says. “However, the increased injury/illness rates for landfill and recycling workers is troubling. Given the recent spike in fatal accidents this fall, SWANA will continue to be an industry leader in providing useful safety resources; nothing we do is more important.”

While the decline in the collection injury rate is a move in the right direction, SWANA has identified at least 13 fatal collection incidents in the U.S. in October 2017 alone, showing there is still much work to be done in order to keep workers safe and get waste collection off the list of top 10 most-dangerous jobs in the U.S.

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SWANA says it will be rolling out new safety initiatives in 2018 to provide additional resources for public and private sector employers and employees throughout the U.S. and Canada. SWANA continues to support “Slow Down To Get Around” safety efforts, which require vehicle operators to slow their speed and carefully maneuver around a collection truck if the truck is at a stop with its lights flashing.

Arlington, Virginia-based National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) also weighed in on the results.

“Today’s BLS release of industry injury and illness data illuminates the progress being made to improve safety performance nationwide,” NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith says. “Since our board of trustees designated safety as a strategic initiative in 2015, NWRA has worked to provide its members with tools and outreach efforts through Safety Stand Downs and our Safety Professional Development Series, as well as collecting our own data from members to monitor trends in safety.”

The BLS data on workplace injury and illness are published annually, and information on the waste and recycling industry is based on the U.S. Census Bureau definition of the waste and remediation services industry (NAICS Code 562) as “solid waste collection, hazardous waste collection, other waste collection, hazardous waste treatment and disposal, solid waste landfill, solid waste combustors and incinerators.”

A copy of the BLS announcement can be found at