Maintenance

Dirty & Dangerous: The Hazardous Job of a Garbage Collector

When you talk about the dirtiest jobs around, there’s no doubt that the image of a trash collector on the back of a garbage truck comes to mind. After all, it’s their job to handle your garbage all day. But even more than dirty, a waste and recycling worker’s job is dangerous. Sometimes those two go hand in hand – but never more so than for your neighborhood waste collection crew.Perhaps it’s only when you try to conjure up the dirtiest professions that you even think of your trash and recycling workers; when we’re rushing around in the morning on our way to a hectic day at work the crew respon­sible for picking up our trash and recycling is usually the last thing on our minds.

Perhaps it’s only when you try to conjure up the dirtiest professions that you even think of your trash and recycling workers; when we’re rushing around in the morning on our way to a hectic day at work the crew respon­sible for picking up our trash and recycling is usually the last thing on our minds.

Yet every week they are there, coming to your house or business to empty those bins. However, that’s only a fraction of what they do every day; rain or shine, heat or snow, and usually with no recognition. If you look up the 10 most dangerous jobs in America, you will always find refuse and re­cycling collectors on the list. The profession has been ranked as high as #3 in the past. Currently, according to a list of dangerous professions published by Time magazine, refuse and recyclable material collectors

If you look up the 10 most dangerous jobs in America, you will always find refuse and re­cycling collectors on the list. The profession has been ranked as high as #3 in the past. Currently, according to a list of dangerous professions published by Time magazine, refuse and recyclable material collectors are ranked at #5; with a fatal injury rate of ap­proximately 39 per 100,000. But don’t forget that every trash truck has a driver, and truck drivers are on that list as well, at the #7 spot with approximately 24 deaths per 100,000. In fact, as far dangerous jobs go, refuse and recycling collectors beat out farm workers, steel workers and powerline installers, re­spectively. All just to pick up your trash.

In fact, as far dangerous jobs go, refuse and recycling collectors beat out farm workers, steel workers and powerline installers, re­spectively. All just to pick up your trash. So, what is it that makes the job so danger­ous? (Since we all know why it’s a dirty one.) Many factors contribute to the dangers of this labor-intensive position, not the small­est of which are the elements.

Picking up and dumping trash bins over and over for hours each day is physical­ly taxing, to say the least, but when you throw extreme temperatures into the mix it becomes even more dangerous. In the summer, workers have to stay constantly hydrated in order to avoid heatstroke; a very serious risk for them in the hot months and in the winter, they must be sure to take pre­cautions to avoid frostbite; an equally seri­ous risk in cold months.Other potential dangers include:

Other potential dangers include:

Hazardous Materials
“Hazardous materials inside trash cans are a concern. We have had multiple injuries from broken glass, used medical needles, nails from construction debris, and many other waste items,” according to Jeremy Savage, supervisor for American Disposal Services in Loudoun County. Savage added that, “chemicals and hot coals have caused fires inside our trucks that can become very dangerous, very fast.”Overhead Obstacles

Overhead Obstacles
This includes low hanging electrical wires, communication wires, and even tree branches. Sometimes tree branches have wires tangled in with them, making them camouflaged, therefore difficult to see, especially before sunrise. Many people may not realize that a garbage/recycling collector’s day starts in the middle of the night – commercial drivers often start their route before 2 a.m.

Road Incidents
Of course, these have consistently been the main concern for waste and recycling workers. Being struck by a vehicle remains one of the leading causes of fatalities in the industry. Distracted or careless drivers zooming around a truck to get to their destination quickly, or simply not paying attention and hitting a worker loading materials into the back of a truck, are incidents all too common in the industry.

For years, the issue of fatalities like these went largely unmentioned until recently, when the Slow Down to Get Around na­tional safety campaign was enacted by Na­tional Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA). The campaign reminds motorists to drive more carefully when near waste and recycling collection vehicles, and that with proper awareness, these fatalities are com­pletely preventable. Thankfully, the campaign to raise awareness about the safety of waste collection workers was a success, and in 2015, the Slow Down to Get Around campaign was made a law in many areas, including Fairfax County. Un­der this new law, drivers must reduce their speed to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and pass at least two feet to the left of any stationary vehicle that is collecting trash or recycling.

Thankfully, the campaign to raise awareness about the safety of waste collection workers was a success, and in 2015, the Slow Down to Get Around campaign was made a law in many areas, including Fairfax County. Un­der this new law, drivers must reduce their speed to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and pass at least two feet to the left of any stationary vehicle that is collecting trash or recycling. So, the next time you think of those dirty jobs, don’t forget that some of them (like the tireless job of your hardworking garbage collector) are more than just dirty; they are also more dangerous than you might have realized.

So, the next time you think of those dirty jobs, don’t forget that some of them (like the tireless job of your hardworking garbage collector) are more than just dirty; they are also more dangerous than you might have realized.

By Anna Wilkinson

Anna Wilkinson is the director of communications for American Disposal Services and the American Recycling Center. She is heavily involved in com­munity relations and hosts the weekly community tours of the American Re­cycling Center. Before joining American Disposal Services, Anna worked in public relations at Hope For The Warriors®.

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