Tough Start to 2009 for Garbage Truck Fatalities

The first three months of 2009 saw 12 solid waste collection workers killed while on their routes, and 9 died during a 15-day period in March. This followed a substantial decrease in solid waste collection fatalities in 2007, during which there were 18 worker fatalities. That reflected a more than 50 percent decrease from the prior year.

For years solid waste collection was among the five most dangerous occupations in the United States as measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of the more dangerous practices involving garbage trucks include double-sided pick up and rushing since workers sometimes need to pick up 1,000 stops in eight hours.

Not all fatalities and injuries, however, involve workers; members of the general public are also at risk. Just this past week, on May 26, two students at Farmingdale State College were struck by a reversing garbage truck owned by Jamaica Ash of Westbury being operated by Guillermo Vargas. Tragically, Aresh Saqib, 21, was seriously injured and Kaeli Sara Kramer, 19, was pronounced dead at the scene. They were struck as they walked down a path also used by service trucks. Both students were crushed by the rear wheels of the front-loading truck.

Ironically, a photograph in Newsday shows the path with a sign posted for drivers to beware of crossing pedestrian traffic. Backing accidents are the most frequent type of accident in the waste industry. It can be important for co-workers to stand near the truck to guide the driver, rather than the driver relying solely upon his mirrors.

It is important to remember certain rules when around garbage trucks: A garbage truck can weigh 25 tons, about the weight of five elephants. Garbage trucks are not able to stop quickly, because they are so heavy. A garbage truck’s tires are as tall as the average five-year-old child.

Safety standards are established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Standards Committee Z245 on Equipment Technology and Operations for Wastes and Recyclable Materials. The approved scope of the ANSI Z245 standards activities encompasses the requirements for the design, manufacture, installation, modification, servicing, maintenance and use of the equipment and technology systems that are used to collect, contain, transport, store, process, recycle, treat and dispose of solid wastes and recyclable materials, and includes the operations of facilities and activities in which these equipment and technologies are incorporated.

This year’s victims included a driver who died after he went inside a truck body without locking out and tagging out the vehicle, a driver who was killed when he overturned his truck, a driver who fell into the hopper from the top of a truck, a worker who was crushed by a container, and an employee who died when he tried to jump out of a truck whose brakes had failed. Four of the fatalities were caused when motorists struck and killed collection employees.

In rare cases, an accident can lead to criminal charges. One case of backing-up involves a legally-blind man who was struck and killed by a backing waste collection truck. Charges were filed after it was discovered that the backing alarm (beeper) was not in working order at the time of the accident.

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