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Every Step of the Way

Waste work: One of the most dangerous industries

Two refuse collection workers loading garbage into waste truck emptying containers

In the United States, there are roughly 451,000 workers in the waste management and services industry.

These workers face some of the highest risks in the workforce, with refuse and recycle collection ranking as the fifth most dangerous job, with an average of 44 worker fatalities out of 100,000 workers.

It is easy for one’s duties at work to become second nature, but that often leads workers to lose focus on staying safe on the job. Workers in the waste industry must be aware of the risks they face, so here are three of the most common hazards.

1. Exposure to hazardous materials

Waste materials often contain hazardous items, including:

  • Chemical waste from cleaning materials or batteries;
  • Biohazards, such as dirty diapers; or
  • Sharp objects, such as broken glass or needles.

Workers who collect this waste everyday risk exposure to these materials. It might be common for workers to overlook these risks, but they could lead to severe chemical burns, infections or even respiratory issues if individuals do not follow proper procedures when disposing of these items.

This is only one reason why waste collectors must wear the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers should speak to their supervisors or employers about providing the proper PPE, so they can stay safe.

2. Moving vehicles and machinery

Every day, waste and recyclable materials collectors travel through the Atlanta area and across Georgia to pick up waste. It is no secret that the road is a dangerous place for any motorist. And the longer one is on the road, the higher the risk is of being in a car accident or struck by a vehicle.

Additionally, garbage trucks and waste management plants have a plethora of heavy machinery. If workers are not careful, they could suffer serious or even fatal injuries.

3. Repetitive strain injuries

Whether on the road or in a waste management plant, this line of work requires workers to engage in several repetitive motions regularly. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are some of the most common work injuries in all fields, but waste workers face a high risk of RSIs and overexertion from:

  • Twisting and bending;
  • Heavy lifting; and
  • Reaching.

Many workplaces have come a long way in creating ergonomic work environments, but waste workers must be aware of ergonomic solutions to avoid these long-term injuries that could affect their lives for years to come.