Solid Waste and Recycling Industry fatalities, Injuries, and Illnesses Trending Down
Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent reports share promising news
For years, the refuse and recyclable material collector occupation was ranked the fifth most dangerous. However, in 2021, that ranking has fallen to seventh. While unfortunately still in the top 10, our industry is trending in the right direction, becoming safer and healthier.
Getting Safer and Healthier
The refuse and recyclable material collector has long been listed as one of the top 10 most dangerous occupations. However, two recent reports from the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveal that the solid waste and recycling industry is continuing to trend downward regarding the number of fatalities and overall injury and illness rates for industry workers.
Key Bureau of Labor Statistics Takeaways
Here are select takeaways from two recent BLS reports: “2021 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses” and “National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2021.”
1. Refuse and recyclable material collector dropped to seventh most dangerous occupation
After two years of holding the No. 6 ranking, the occupation fell to the No. 7 most dangerous. While there tragically were 34 fatal occupational injuries within the industry in 2021, no fatalities were recorded at landfills, and four fatalities were recorded at materials recovery facilities (MRFs).
2. Injury and illness rates for solid waste industry workers reached “historically low” levels
Private industry employers reported 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2021. That is down from 2.7 million in 2020. Specifically, for the solid waste and recycling industry:
- The overall injury rate dropped to 3.1 total cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2021 from 3.5 in 2020
- The injury rate for solid waste collection workers fell to 4.0 cases per 100 FTE workers in 2021 from 5.2 in 2020
- The injury rate for landfill workers decreased to 2.2 cases per 100 FTE workers in 2021 from 3.4 in 2020
- The injury rate for MRF workers dropped to 3.2 cases per 100 FTE workers in 2021 from 5.1 in 2020
The data above is outlined in the graph below created by the Solid Waste Association of North America
3. Respiratory illnesses continue to be one of the leading causes of illnesses among solid waste and recycling industry workers
Respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, a respiratory illness under criteria established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), continue to be one of the leading causes of illnesses among workers in all industries within the private sector. While cases are down from years prior, the industry isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to writing off COVID-19 as a threat to workers.
See the table below from the BLS that outlines reported respiratory illness cases from 2017 to 2021 for the private sector. According to this data, there was a 37.1% decrease in employer-reported respiratory illness cases in 2021 from the year prior.
4. Private sector nonfatal illnesses dropped 32.9% from 2020
Nonfatal illnesses also contribute to the annually reported workplace illness statistics. In 2021, private industry employers reported 365,200 nonfatal illnesses, a decrease of 32.9% from 2020. This high percentage was the largest contributing factor to the overall injuries and illnesses rate for 2021. It is important to note that the BLS did not provide illness rates specific to solid waste landfill or MRF workers.
5. Injury rates fell within the solid waste and recycling industry in 2021
Yet in the private sector as a whole, total reported injury cases are up 6.3% from 2020.
6. For every 100,000 FTE collection workers, there were 27.9 fatal work injuries, which is down from 33.1 in 2020
While this number was down for our industry, the overall national census of fatal occupational injuries was up 8.9% from 2020. More specifically, the fatal work injury rate was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 FTE workers, up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE in 2020 and up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5.
7. Transportation incidents were the leading cause of the majority of solid waste collection industry deaths in 2021
Twenty-one of the 34 fatal occupational injuries in 2021 were the result of transportation incidents. This is important to note as the industry is constantly fighting to combat the issue of distracted driving and encourage all roadway users to follow Slow Down to Get Around laws. According to the National Waste & Recycling Association, these laws and other actions, along with utilizing the latest and greatest in-cab safety technologies, can help reduce transportation-related fatalities.
The solid waste and recycling industry is continuing to move the needle on safety. However, it must not let its guard down when it comes to implementing and enforcing procedures, policies and technologies that can help improve safety efforts and continue to reduce the number of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses amongst workers. The No. 7 ranking is a positive, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for the industry to fall off the top 10 list of dangerous occupations.
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