Injury prevention Administrative/support/waste management/remediation

Sanitation worker safety still a concern for SWANA despite ‘small decline’ in deaths

'It's pretty dangerous to be a garbage man'

Silver Spring, MD — At least 53 sanitation workers in the United States (44) and Canada (nine) died from on-the-job injuries in 2019 – a 10.2% decrease from 2018, according to a recent analysis from the Solid Waste Association of North America.

SWANA examined fatality data from industry sources and media reports. Findings show that 67.9% of the fatalities occurred during collection operations.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced a rate of 44.3 fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2018 – the fifth highest rate among civilian occupations.


“The number of solid waste-related fatalities continued at unusually high levels in 2019,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman said in a March 16 press release. “Although there was a small decline from 2018, and that slight improvement has continued into 2020, we remain concerned about the solid waste industry’s overall safety performance.”

SWANA’s safety tips for sanitation workers include:

  • Wear personal protective equipment, especially high-visibility vests and/or outerwear.
  • Never use cellphones while driving garbage trucks or at a disposal facility.
  • Buckle up.

Additionally, SWANA reported that at least 80 civilian fatalities associated with industry operations occurred in 2019 – a 20.8% decrease from the previous year. The organization noted that “almost all” of the fatalities involved collisions with garbage trucks.

In September, OSHA entered an alliance agreement with SWANA and the National Waste and Recycling Association in an effort to “protect the health and safety of workers in the solid waste industry.”

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