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Title: Waste Collection: A Dirty and Deadly Job

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Communications Specialist, Department of Public Works

How dangerous is your job? When we think of deadly professions, we tend to think of mining, construction, law enforcement and firefighting. Oddly enough, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those jobs are not among the top ten civilian occupations with the highest fatality rates. In fact, the five civilian occupations with the highest fatality rates in 2017 were fishing, logging, piloting/flight engineering, roofing and refuse and recyclable material collection.

You read that right – the men and women who cart away more than 250 million tons of trash, recycling and organic materials generated by Americans each year have one of the nation’s deadliest occupations. In fact, waste collection has an incidence rate of 35 fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers, ten times the national average! (I’ll keep that statistic in mind the next time the lid to my trash can goes missing.)

What makes solid waste collection such a dangerous profession? Falls, slips, trips, fires, explosions and contact with dangerous, heavy equipment all cause fatalities among collectors. However, across all occupations, transportation incidents were the most common cause of fatal injury, which is not news to waste collectors.

“Most people don’t realize just how dangerous the solid waste management field can be,” said Tim Dunn, Baltimore County’s solid waste superintendent. “It’s important to remember the hardworking people who perform this essential public service when you’re out and about. A little bit of extra care and caution behind the wheel can go a long way.”

In recent years, the National Waste and Recycling Association and the Solid Waste Association of North America made it a priority to pass “slow down to get around” (SDTGA) legislation in states across the country, including Maryland SB 445, which was signed into law last year. These laws require drivers to slow down and change lanes when approaching waste management vehicles from the rear.

In addition to following Maryland’s SDTGA law, you can take some simple steps to reduce the risk of injury for sanitation workers:

  • Wrap broken glass before disposing of it.
  • Place needles, syringes, razor blades and any other sharp objects in a closed, heavy-duty plastic container for disposal.
  • Do not put household hazardous waste in your trash can. Take it to one of the County’s drop-off centers.
  • Do not use a trash can that exceeds a maximum filled weight of 40 pounds or a maximum capacity of 34 gallons. See the County’s collection set-out guide for more information.

By following a few basic rules, being mindful and showing a little common courtesy, you can help reduce injury and fatality rates not only among waste collectors, but workers across industries.

Have questions about trash and recycling collection in Baltimore County? View a list of collection FAQs on the County’s website or send an email to solidwaste@baltimorecountymd.gov. This article originally appeared in The Resource Newsletter. See past issues and subscribe at baltimorecountymd.gov/theresource


 
 
Revised September 11, 2017