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Perhaps no other single issue stands out in a waste company owner’s mind more than the safety and security of employees. Good waste management employers are serious about safety.

They provide safety training so that their employees can identify hazards, and they have a safety program to deal with safety issues as they arise.

According to Rush Akin, sales director, government at Lytx, a company that offers fleet safety solutions that can help detect the subtle signs of distracted and drowsy driving in real time. Being a waste or recycling driver is among the top 10 most dangerous professions in the U.S.

“It’s every organization’s goal to get their drivers home safely at the end of the day and to help protect the communities they serve,” Akin said. “That means keeping them free from distractions while driving, and being aware of what’s happening in and around their vehicle to avoid hazards in the pursuit of their duties.”

“After spending over 25 years in the solid waste industry, a major issue facing the industry is driver distraction,” said William Cole, lead safety advisor for Advantek Waste Management Services. “More and more people are driving, talking, texting, checking e-mails and doing other things rather than focusing on their surroundings. Driving takes 100 percent focus all the time on what is going on outside the vehicle. A driver never knows what may happen at any given second and needs to be ready to react to any unanticipated event, not looking down at a phone.”

“The shortage of drivers is due to a lot of reasons – lower fuel prices, the steady economy, and online shopping just to name few. These factors have also added more freight to the roadways,” Cole said. “That, along with aging drivers and a new generation that is reluctant to enter the field, has contributed to driver shortage and this will continue to be an issue.”

In addition to driver distraction and unqualified drivers, waste management collection drivers also face a myriad of hazards on the road, including being hit by careless drivers. As a result, more and more cities are passing “slow down” ordinances around recycling and waste collection vehicles.

This initiative, Slow Down To Get Around, was originally developed by the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) in conjunction with Rumpke Consolidated and McNeilus Companies.

Cole said the initiative was in response to a tragic accident involving one Rumpke employee who was killed and another accident involving a Rumpke employee who was severely injured. Both accidents were the result of careless driving.

As the NWRA explained, the goal of the program is to “remind motorists to drive more carefully when near waste and recycling collection vehicles. Being struck by motorists is a leading cause of death for waste and recycling collection employees, and with proper awareness, is completely preventable.” In 2013, the association began its public awareness campaign by various public service announcements in several media markets. In addition, Slow Down to Get Around decals are available for haulers and local governments to affix to their trucks.

There is a big push from national organizations such as NWRA and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to share what is working among the industry, to learn from companies that are performing well in safety and share those best practices with those that are not.  

“Also, NWRA holds three nationwide stand downs each year to raise awareness in certain areas,” Cole said. “For example, Safety Stand Down Back to School was held in late August make sure drivers in the solid waste industry were aware of more traffic on the road due to school starting and kids waiting for the school buses. These stand downs are a weeklong focus to raise awareness.”

Lytx supports both SWANA’s and NWRA’s Slow Down to Get Around awareness programs.

“More specifically, we are the primary sponsor of SWANA’s Slow Down to Get Around decal program, which encourage other drivers to take it slow around waste vehicles,” Akin said. States like Virginia, New York and Oklahoma have passed laws. Some cities like our client, Fairfax, Virginia have promoted awareness of these new laws.”

In July 2015, Virginia signed HB 1649 into law, joining eight other states that have enacted Slow Down to Get Around legislation. These states include Wisconsin, North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan and Alabama. The new law, which carries a penalty of up to $250, says drivers must reduce their speed to at least 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit and pass at least 2 feet to the left of any stationary vehicle that is collecting trash or recycling.

“In addition to safety committees that review policies to keep them fresh and relevant, we’ve seen great success among our waste and recycling clients with driver recognition programs,” Akin said. “These are creative, positive programs that help all fleet drivers understand what safe driving looks like. Nearly 100 percent of our municipality clients have driver recognition programs, and some, like the city of Mobile, promote the results with their communities to put a spotlight on what they’re doing to make their communities safer.”

What’s more, in an effort to protect children throughout the communities they serve, Advanced Disposal created the Sam Safety Kids video and educational program. The animated video features Sam Safety showing kids how to stay safe when garbage and recycling trucks pass through their neighborhoods and even features a catchy song to help children remember the importance of staying clear from all collection trucks. While intended for young children, the message is appropriate for people of all ages. In addition, the Sam Safety Kids web site features activity downloads, flyers, and educational materials to help further educate caregivers and children about being safe when waste collection vehicles are in the neighborhood.

Technology has made an impact on how transportation companies operate. From tracking the routes their drivers run, to billing at the time of delivery, technology advances play a increasingly important role in the transportation industry. Likewise, technology is dramatically affecting transportation safety as well. This new safety technology includes being able to insert safety devices that can counter a driver’s moves and adjust the air on the braking system to help prevent rollovers.

The Lytx DriveCam program combines video capture of road incidents such as collisions, near-collisions, hard braking or hard swerving, data analysis of those events, and personalized coaching insights to improve driving behavior to help prevent those incidents.

As Akin explained, the results of this program are significant. In some cases, collision-related costs have been reduced by up to 80 percent.

“The DriveCam program helps identify the risk in fleets, and leverages the video and data to both help the driver improve, and to reward and recognize exceptional drivers,” Akin said. “Sensor and camera technologies, such a Lytx’s Unisyn platform, have evolved to make it affordable for a fleet manager to have multiple camera views around their vehicle. Video is the best tool to bring clarity and certainty to incidents that take place while the vehicle is on its route, such as sideswipes, rear-end collisions, and more.”

Of course, the issue of distracted driving – across all industries – will continue to increase unless there is some sort of legislation that totally prohibits the use of cell phones while driving.

“Companies in the solid waste industry will have to enhance existing training, develop ways to help the drivers deal with other drivers and distractions, find a way to recruit people into the industry with better play and benefits and continue to share best practices among the industry,” Cole said. “I’m sure technology will continue to play a role in areas such as truck design, sensor devices and more, to help reduce vehicle accidents.”

Published in the November 2016 Edition of American Recycler News