The number of on-the-job deaths at MRFs increased slightly in 2020, but those killed in garbage and recyclables collection dropped notably.
The latest data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows four employees were killed at MRFs in 2020, up from three the year before. But the good news is that collection, which is where most on-the-job fatalities occur in the waste management industry, saw a decrease from 43 deaths in 2019 to 38 in 2020, according to the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), which annually parses and compares the federal data with its own statistics.
BLS tallied six 2020 fatalities at landfills, up from zero the year before (SWANA’s data showed there had been two landfill deaths in 2019).
In terms of on-the-job fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, refuse and recyclable material collectors came in at 33.1 in 2020, down from 35.2 in 2019. The 2020 number placed the profession as sixth most dangerous in the U.S.
“SWANA is very pleased BLS has confirmed SWANA’s data showing a decline in collection worker fatalities in 2020,” David Biderman, SWANA’s executive director and CEO, stated in a press release. “This continues a trend that started in 2019 and has accelerated this year. Our Safety Ambassadors program, Hauler Safety Outreach initiatives, and other safety activities appear to be paying dividends, and we expanded our safety offerings in 2021 by adding a very successful weekly safety newsletter. The goal is to reduce worker fatalities and get waste collection employees out of the top 10 list.”
SWANA noted that COVID-19 deaths were outside the scope of the BLS report. Industry employees were killed last year because of the virus. For example, as of May 20, 2021, the New York Department of Sanitation had lost nine employees to the disease.
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