The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) reported an increase in worker fatalities in 2022 in the United States and Canada after a dramatic drop in 2021. For 2022, 46 solid waste industry worker fatalities were recorded by SWANA compared to 28 the year before.
“SWANA is disappointed by the nearly 65 percent increase in worker fatalities experienced in the industry last year,” stated David Biderman, SWANA Executive Director & CEO. “The 2022 data is a reminder that we need to make sure that safety is a core value across all lines of business, in collection, post-collection, and maintenance, and at small and large companies and agencies in both the public and private sectors,” Biderman added.
The first goal in SWANA’s Strategic Plan: Forward, Together is getting collection workers off the list of the ten occupations with the highest fatality rate. In 2022, collection worker fatalities increased modestly from 22 to 25. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) most recent report for 2021, collection workers are 7th on that list, an improvement compared to previous years.
Public sector workers represented a larger percentage of fatalities in 2022, compared to previous years. About 35 percent of all solid waste workers killed last year worked in the public sector, whereas the average was around 21 percent over the past four years.
Collection remained the leading type of work for fatal incidents. The most common cause of collection worker fatalities continues to be their own truck (e.g., either falling off it, being struck by it, or the truck rolling over). Being struck by a third party vehicle remains the third leading cause of death for collection workers followed by crashes with other vehicles.
Post-collection and maintenance activities both saw large increases in fatalities in 2022, representing the bulk of the rise in worker deaths from 2021. Fatal incidents at materials recovery facilities (MRFs) jumped from one in 2021 to seven in 2022. Fatalities at landfills went from five to eight in 2022.
Maintenance also contributed to the rise in worker fatalities in 2022, with four people being killed while working on trucks. Three of these incidents involved working on or around hydraulics.
Mechanical-related fatalities as a whole led the list of fatal events for the first time since SWANA has tracked this data. In addition to truck maintenance, work on and around shredders, balers, compactors and other equipment led to 11 worker deaths in 2022. Single vehicle crashes were again the second leading cause of fatal incidents.
Looking at worker fatalities month-by-month, overall trends of a spring and then a summer spike followed by a decrease through the end of the year continues to hold.
The 2022 data is unusual in that there was a dip in fatalities in June. The previous three years saw a dip in May followed by a spike in fatal incidents in June. However, a spike did occur later in August in 2022.
In addition to worker fatalities, SWANA also tracks events in which a member of the public is killed in a solid waste related incident. For 2022, there was a decrease in the fatalities after an increase in 2021. After several years of increase, pedestrian fatalities are down compared to 2021, but still higher than earlier years. Fatal incidents involving bicyclists also jumped significantly in 2022 compared to 2021 when there was only one recorded.
Texas, California, and New York remain on the list of top 5 states with the most fatalities in 2022. Florida and Pennsylvania join the list this year, replacing Ohio and Georgia in 2021. These 5 states represent over 40 percent of all fatalities in 2022. Three fatalities occurred in Canada in 2022, with one in Ontario and two in British Columbia.
SWANA recently rebranded its weekly safety newsletter as Safety First to reflect safety being the first goal in its Strategic Plan and to highlight the importance of safety for all solid waste employers and employees. SWANA will be developing new safety resources and partnering with governmental entities and others to achieve its goal of getting waste collection workers off the “top 10” list. SWANA is holding a Town Hall on March 23 to discuss these activities.
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) is an organization of more than 10,000 public and private sector professionals committed to advancing from solid waste management to resource management through their shared emphasis on education, advocacy and research. For more than 60 years, SWANA has been the leading association in the solid waste management field. SWANA serves industry professionals through technical conferences, certifications, publications and a large offering of technical training courses.