U.S. waste worker death rate falls

Collection worker fatalities continue to decline in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the 2020 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showing refuse and recyclable materials collection remains the sixth deadliest occupation in the United States, though total collection worker fatalities continue to decline. The workplace fatality rate for this group fell to 33.1 in 2020 from 35.2 in 2019.

“SWANA is very pleased BLS has confirmed SWANA’s data showing a decline in collection worker fatalities in 2020. This continues a trend that started in 2019 and has accelerated this year,” observed David Biderman, SWANA’s executive director and CEO.

“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.”

Biderman added SWANA will continue working with its members and industry partners to improve the solid waste industry’s safety performance and provide educational resources and leadership on this important industry issue.

Solid waste collection (NAICS 562111) saw a reduction in workplace fatalities in 2020, with 38 collection employee deaths. This continues a downward trend from 57 in 2018 and 43 in 2019.

Fatalities at material recovery facilities (NAICS 562920) increased slightly from three in 2019 to four in 2020. Solid waste landfills (NAICS 562212) saw six fatalities in 2020, while BLS recorded none in the previous year.

According to data collected by SWANA, however, at least two landfill workers were killed on the job in 2019. Regardless, this portion of the industry saw a steady decline over the previous five years.

Notably, the BLS fatality census does not report any illness-related information, including COVID-19. Fatal workplace illnesses not caused by an injury are not within the scope of this report.

“Solid waste is a dangerous industry on so many levels, and we must collectively work to bring awareness to those most vulnerable to injury or worse,” said Suzanne Sturgeon, SCS Engineers’ safety manager and SWANA National Safety Committee Chairwoman.

“As an industry, we have tools in place to help with this process, and SWANA is a great resource. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get started and can rely on our allies in the industry to help us make a difference.”

“It is positive to hear our industry remains out of the top five deadliest occupations in the United States,” said Amberlyn Melton Liles, superintendent of Environmental Services for The City of Oxford, Mississippi, and Safety Ambassador for the SWANA Magnolia Chapter.

“In every industry, accidents will happen. The solid waste industry must continue to promote employee and public safety diligently to move out of the top ten deadliest occupations in the United States.”

SWANA will release the results of its own 2021 fatality survey in early 2022.