Sanitation Workers Have Fifth-Highest Fatality Rate
September 27, 2021
Sanitation workers perform a variety of job duties depending on their employment position, such as collecting and properly disposing of waste, recyclables, and garbage, emptying pits and septic tanks, cleaning toilets, manholes, and sewers, and operating pumping stations. Not only is it a physically demanding job, but sanitation work also comes with plenty of hazards: according to the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), seven sanitation workers died in the first 10 days of 2018. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses unique risks to sanitation workers as well, who arguably face more occupational dangers now than ever before. To combat these hazards, employers need to take steps to protect workers from known risk factors in order to limit preventable injuries and deaths.
What Hazards do Sanitation Workers Face?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that refuse and recyclable material (or trash and recycling pick-up) collectors are exposed to some of the highest job-related risks, sustaining nearly 10 times as many fatal injuries as workers in any other industry. Some of the hazards that recycling and refuse material collectors most frequently encounter on the job include:
- Injuries from dangerous objects. Sanitation workers sustain cuts and other serious injuries when they pick up trash or recycling that contains items like metal blades, glass, light bulbs, and other sharp objects
- Hazardous materials. Workers can sustain an array of injuries when they come into contact with hazardous materials like pesticides, bleach (and other industrial cleaning agents), and hypodermic needles. Even throwing away something as seemingly harmless as kitty litter can lead to toxoplasmosis (an infection that generally causes flu-like symptoms and sometimes lasts for more than one month). Exposure to hazardous materials can result in burns, poisoning, infection, and lung damage
- Sanitation workers lift heavy loads repeatedly throughout their shifts and are prone to sustaining lifting injuries like hernias, muscular strains and sprains, overexertion injuries, and shoulder injuries
- Crushing accidents from using trash and recycling compactors and front-end loader systems. Crushing accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries like the amputation of a limb
- Trips and falls. Sanitation workers are constantly jumping in and out of their vehicles to collect material, which renders them vulnerable to fall injuries. Sanitation workers also slip and fall on slippery roads and sidewalks. These falls can cause various head injuries, such as concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), contusions, bone fractures, and spinal injuries
- Pests like mice, rats, raccoons, bees, wasps, and other animals. Pests are drawn to garbage, which increases a sanitation worker’s chances of encountering them while performing their job duties. Not only can these pests injure workers when they bite them, but they can also transmit infection and disease
Safety and Health Guidelines
Organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and SWANA provide recommendations for employers and workers alike on ways they can effectively reduce accident rates in this dangerous job field. Some of the organizations’ recommendations include the following safety and health tips:
- Workers should ride only in the vehicle cab or on steps that the vehicle manufacturer designed for riding
- Employers should provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including high visibility vests and/or outerwear
- Workers should always remain inside the vehicle cab until the vehicle has come to a complete stop
- Ensure that workers are not using the vehicle’s riding steps when the vehicle is backing up, exceeding 10 mph, or traveling a distance greater than 0.2 miles
- No worker should ride on the loading sills or on in hoppers
- Workers should always wear their seatbelts and be sure to never use a cell phone while driving or while at a waste disposal facility
- Ideally, a waste management vehicle should have rearview cameras or other technology to provide drivers with better visibility than from using mirrors alone
- Automated side loader waste collection vehicles have become increasingly popular in recent years. Side loader garbage trucks help keep workers safe in a few key ways: they limit the amount of time that sanitation workers spend outside the vehicle encountering hazards and also reduce the risks associated with manually loading heavy items
- Be sure to follow federal guidelines for pre and post-trip inspection protocols
Injured Sanitation Workers
No matter how dangerous a particular line of work may be, employers are still legally obligated to take all the necessary steps to mitigate known risk factors and to promote a safe and healthful work environment for every worker. At a minimum, an injured worker can file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to injured workers. Depending on the nature of the incident, an injured worker may also want to consider filing a third party liability claim. An injured worker can file a third party liability claim when another party bears responsibility for the injury they sustained, like if a trash or recycling compactor or front-end loading system was improperly designed, defective, or failed to provide proper instructions to the user.
In a previous case, our attorneys were able to secure a $535,000 recovery for a client who was injured while working on a copper sanitation line. Due to unsafe electrical conditions, our client sustained an electrical shock while working on the sanitation line. The electric shock caused our client to develop reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD, and exacerbated his pre-existing cervical spondylosis as well. Altogether, our client accrued nearly $30,000 in medical expenses from the injuries he sustained in the accident. Our attorneys successfully settled the case on the second day of trial.
If you sustained injuries and have questions about filing a workers’ compensation or third-party liability claim, an experienced attorney at our firm can help. To learn more about filing a claim, contact a representative online now.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Representing Injured Victims Since 1947
Galfand Berger LLP has offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.