The number of fatal accidents involving employees, as well as the thousands of reported injuries and illnesses and waste collection vehicle accidents each year makes solid waste collection the fifth most dangerous job in the US.
From mid-2015 to mid-2016, there were 98 fatalities directly related to municipal solid waste collection, processing and disposal occurred in the United States, according to data collected by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).
Of that number, 38 were solid waste employees on the job, mostly during collection. Thirteen of the fatal worker incidents took place at a landfill or materials recovery facility. The average age of the workers who died on the job was 41.7 years old, with 60% being over the age of 40.
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Eleven of the fatalities during collection occurred when an employee was struck by a vehicle while working outside a garbage truck, with an additional four fatalities happening due to workers falling off a truck they were riding. At post-collection facilities, being struck by a vehicle was also the most common cause of death.
Sixty third-party fatalities were incidents involving solid waste trucks or equipment resulting in the death of a member of the general public. Of those, more than 70% involved a collision between two or more vehicles. More than 1/4 of the incidents were a result of a collision between a solid waste collection vehicle and a pedestrian or bicyclist.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regards the solid waste industry as encompassing collection, treatment, disposal, and other waste remediation services.
In 2013, approximately 518,000 workers were employed in the solid waste industry with about 377,600 in private industry. About 72,500 of the private waste industry employees are classified as refuse and recyclable materials collectors. An additional 49,000 collectors are employed by local government agencies.
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Credit: Rear View Safety
Rear View Safety’s rear mounted camera
The agency makes the point that solid waste industry workers can be injured or killed if they are struck by vehicles or other mobile equipment, involved in a crash, or other motor vehicle incident, or caught in or compressed by equipment or objects.
They also work outdoors in all types of weather and are at risk of injury from lifting materials. They also can be exposed to microorganisms, chemicals, diesel exhaust, and other airborne contaminants at landfills.
In a November/December 2015 MSW Management article, authors Marc Rogoff, project director SCS Engineers, and David Biderman, SWANA executive director, point out that “solid waste collection workers are potentially exposed to health, environmental, and safety risks due to the weight of the waste to be collected and various chemical and biological materials sometimes present in the wastestream.”
Statistics from typical rear-loader operations suggest that collection crews lift on average more than six tons per worker per day—that combined with an aging workforce tends to generate an increasing number of injured staff, the authors write.
Additionally, solid waste collection workers are exposed to safety risks associated with vehicular traffic, waste containers, and being struck or run over by their own truck.
Credit: Rear View Safety
Rear View Safety’s interior monitor
In 2013, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that US refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced 33 fatalities per 100,000 workers and work in an occupation with the fifth highest fatality rate in the country.
That number represents more than a 20% increase in the collection fatality rate from 2012, and is 10 times higher than the overall national average for all US workers, and four times higher than construction-related fatalities.
According to BLS, public sector workers who collect refuse and recyclable material experienced four times the rate of days off from work due to incidents than occurred in the industry’s private sector.
NIOSH indicates workers in solid waste collection also were in the top three job classifications for the highest number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses, caused primarily by overexertion, being struck, striking against, or being compressed in equipment.
Small hauling companies typically have higher fatality and injury rates than larger companies or sanitation departments, the authors report.
Lorne Hull, director of sales and marketing for Global Sensor Systems, says backing accidents are more common among truck operators with insurance companies estimating average repair costs at $8,000 per incident.
Hull points out accidents can occur from a number of causes and that even mirrors and video cameras can be culprits, as they can present different depth perspectives even within an inch or two. Mirrors on the left and right and a video camera invite ongoing eye and head movements, impacting reaction time, he adds.
Other distractions include electronics, alarms, outside activities and obstructions, low visibility, distracted pedestrians, and miscommunications with the solid waste worker riding in the passenger seat.
Hull explains there are three factors determining the distance traveled before a truck will come to a full stop: perception time (the amount of time between sensing a hazard and applying the brakes, normally 1/2 to 3/4 of a second), reaction time (1/2 to 1 second) and event distance (the time it takes for the truck to stop). Case in point: a truck backing up at five miles per hour moves 14.7 feet in two seconds.
Infrared, microwave or ultrasonic technology automatically applies the brakes when sensing objects in the vehicle’s path, Hull points out. Such technology should be designed to be automatically activated only when the truck is in reverse and to a focused coverage area as to avoid false alarms. It also should encompass driver override controls, he adds.
Gary Rothstein, president of Mobile Awareness, notes that the use of camera systems and sensors are becoming more commonplace now. “There is a greater awareness that the accidents are preventable,” he adds.
Industry experts agree the cost of investing in backup cameras, sensors, and other safety technologies is a fraction of the cost of repairing components that break because a vehicle operator backed into something, to say nothing of the costs involved when someone gets hurt or killed.
Credit: INTEC Video Systems, Inc.
Intec rear view camera
Another reason solid waste operations invest in rear-view cameras and sensors is to improve efficiency and productivity. “They want to add more eyes on the machine; more vision,” notes Marc Lefebvre, president of RMT Equipment, which distributes Orlaco backup detection for vehicles.
The nature of solid waste—its weight and the stop-and-go, forward and backing movement of collection vehicles—presents unique safety challenges.
The solid waste industry was one of the earlier adapters of camera technology, says Joseph Schechter, executive vice president of Rear View Safety. “Here in New York, the guys that pick up the trash wire them on the back of the truck as they are driving. It’s very important for them to see what’s behind them when backing up,” he says.
Traditionally, only a rear-view camera is used, “but lately we’re seeing a lot of side-view cameras and even now a camera in the front,” notes Schechter.
Technology is becoming increasingly integrated, helping solid waste operations obtain more extensive and accurate information than ever before.
Case in point: Mobile Awareness’ VisionStat Plus, which integrates a backup camera system with a sensor system. “It shows four sensors and the distance to the closest sensor accurate to one inch,” says Rothstein. “It is one monitor that provides active and passive technology. The government doesn’t consider a color monitor an active device. It’s considered passive like a side mirror where if you’re not looking at it, it’s not going to do you a lot of good.”
The backing sensor is audible, providing active protection, he adds. “If the driver is looking at a side view mirror, the monitor will display the distance and where along the back in four zones the object is, whether it’s a person or a pole,” says Rothstein. “The audible aspect of it is what’s key in that it brings your attention to look at the monitor. That’s become a lot more popular than just having one or the other.”
Mobile Awareness also offers technologies such as tire pressure monitoring, which helps operations save money by not having to replace tires when they blow out, Rothstein says. “A lot of the fleets look at an ROI and it’s not always that simple because if you haven’t had a fatal accident and a lawsuit from it, you’re fortunate,” he says. “We’ve had very large fleets contact us after somebody has been killed or harmed, so it’s not always a clear ROI.”
The company helps end-users derive the most from the technology by examining the work environment of the collection vehicle and developing a solution to fit those demands.
Rothstein points out that distractions have become more intense, brought on by another technology: cell phones. “You see people all day long with their cell phones texting, tweeting. There are a number of things going in and out around the waste management vehicle and for just a moment, you get a text, you hear it go off, you look down at your phone and bam … you have an accident.”
The company is expanding its backing sensor system to the sides and all around the vehicle, building upon its success with front and rear systems. “A solid waste vehicle may pull over to the right lane to make a right turn and a motorcycle or bicycle may try to shoot in there and the solid waste driver doesn’t see it and goes to make their turn. We’ve realized that is an issue,” says Rothstein.
Additionally, fleet operators have been requesting high definition camera systems and Mobile Awareness has accommodated. Despite it being more costly, some-end users indicate the greater clarity is worth having, says Rothstein.
Rothstein agrees with other industry experts that the solid waste management industry has been more aware of the need for such technologies because the trucks travel in and out of various residential, commercial, and industrial settings, each with their own safety challenges.
Mobile Awareness also makes blind spot sensor systems, which combines exact measurements with graphical and audible alerts. The sensors are designed to be installed on the bumpers for backing up as well as on top of vehicle corners for overhang protection.
Rear View Safety offers a broad range of choices. Its backup camera solutions are wireless and wires, with the latter entailing an aviation cable going from the camera to the monitor.
In the solid waste industry, it’s important to have cables with a water-proof rating, Schechter points out, adding all of the company’s cables have a minimum of an IP67 rating for being weatherproof and waterproof.
The products also use aircraft-grade connectors. “There is so much abuse on those trucks, you want to make sure nothing could ever open or fall out of place,” says Schechter.
He points out that even though there’s not much of a blindspot below the truck looking straight out, cameras are now being placed there. “Traditionally, it was the least used camera but if they did use it, it was to detect children and animals and make sure they were not hitting anything in front of them,” says Schechter. “We are seeing it more when a customer is getting a mobile DVR recording device. They’re putting the camera on the inside of the truck, looking out the windshield like a dash camera and using that more for accidents than for pedestrian or animals or curbside detection.”
Camera placement has gone from the traditional single view screen to quad view screens with four pictures on one monitor, he adds.
Wireless cameras traditionally have encountered a hurdle of interference in waste trucks, “but lately the wireless has gotten a really strong signal and no interference, so we’re seeing a some wireless starting to be implemented into the industry,” says Schechter.
“Within the split screen segment, when side cameras were starting to be added to the trucks, we actually tied the side camera into the turn signals of the vehicle, so when a truck is doing a lane change or is turning on a corner and the driver puts the blinker on, the entire blind spot opens up on the screen.”
A typical truck with three cameras has a full view of all of the blind spots, Schechter adds.
The company offers a variety of cameras from side to rear facing, with 26 different housings.
One of the commonly used cameras in the waste industry is the commercial grade RVS-770, says Schechter. It’s a 130-degree backup camera with a 250,000 pixel 2.1 mm lens and 18 infrared illuminators enabling the driver to see in total darkness. A built-in microphone enables the driver to hear sound behind the truck. It is designed to be shock resistant with a 20G vibration and 100G impact rating.
The camera has insulated glass to prevent fogging. All of the company’s cameras have night vision, Schechter says.
Rear View Safety also offers a smart alarm that detects if the waste truck is in residential area or in a commercial/industrial zone. “The decibel range is from 75 to 107, so if you’re in a nice, quiet neighborhood, it keeps it at a lower decibel, but if you’re doing a pickup in downtown, it raises it,” says Schechter.
Another category is wired and wireless sensors. Rear View Safety’s sensors operate in all weather conditions down to 40 degrees below Fahrenheit, says Schechter. The company offers forward-facing, blind spot and rear detection sensors.
There had been a decline in the use of sensors up until 2015 when truck operators only utilized cameras, he says. After that, there was an uptick in their use as demand grew for an integration of sensors into the monitor.
“The typical set-up is four sensors, so on the actual display you’ll see all four sensors and whichever one detects the object is going to flash and give you a read-out to the object,” Schechter says.
For example, if a truck is 2.5 feet away from an object, the sensor will show that distance on the monitor and emit a sound.
The control box has to be mounted in a waterproof area that is not exposed to weather and outside elements, Schechter notes. Everything is mounted in a cab and the same cable that’s carrying the video signal is carrying the sensor technology.
One alternative is the newly released RVS-114 wireless backup sensor that is completely weatherproof. Everything is mounted in the rear of the truck and the control box has an IP68 rating.
“It can submerge in the water and the detectors only activate when you go into reverse,” says Schechter. “The display connects to the sensors via Bluetooth technology. You get an alert and a read-out of the distance. The LCD display shows you the bars from orange to red as you get closer to the object.”
The forward-facing sensors are the ones most used in the commercial industry, detecting movement such as children and animals, notes Schechter.
Left-hand turns can be problematic as the A-pillar is a “tremendous blind spot”, says Schechter, adding having the sensors offers extra precaution.
Mobile DVRs is another safety technology. They are used to prove or disprove collection complaints as well as driver training.
The company’s MobileMule series offers a range of two- to eight-channel DVR recording. All of the recordings are on a hard drive or solid state drive recording up to two terabytes of data.
Schechter notes solid waste vehicles take a lot of abuse on the road, with a lot of vibrations; additionally, the technology mirrors the latest recordings onto an SD card, so if the solid state or hard drive goes back, there is backup on the SD card.
Another MobileMule model—the 3G/4G—is hosted by Rear View Safety. Users obtain their own data card. The system offers remote live video viewing as well as the capability of looking at footage to obtain an accurate report of an event.
“You can program geofencing into it so if your driver goes off his route, you get email alerts if something fails,” notes Schechter. “If the SD card stops working, you get an alert right away that it needs to be reformatted. There are a lot of alarm inputs.”
Schechter notes DVR technology users usually get four cameras: right, left, rear, and forward facing. Those who want more can go with a system of eight, he adds.
“They could put in a camera that looks at the vehicle operator to make sure they’re not talking on the phone or smoking in the cab,” says Schechter. “When operators know they can be watched all of the time, they behave a little bit better. There also are a lot of good drivers out there and a lot of false claims that happen, so by having this information it benefits the system’s users.”
Another technology offered by Rear View Safety is a driver fatigue system to address the problem of drivers falling asleep. While that may not be a common problem in the solid waste industry in general with the small routes, it may happen to someone traveling to and from a transfer station, Schechter says.
The system monitors—but does not record—the vehicle operator’s pupils. It can detect through sunglasses. The system sounds a loud alarm if it detects the driver is falling asleep at the wheel.
Another technology is dash cameras. The company offers one that faces the vehicle operator, one that looks out of the windshield and another that offers a 360-degree view. Its four lenses face north, south, east, and west, recording everything on an SD card and offering GPS information.
Rear View Safety primarily serves the aftermarket; its sister company FleetMind supplies for the OEM side. “Even if a truck comes with the backup camera, a lot of systems can upgrade to add more cameras to it,” says Schechter. He notes operations with small fleets as well as large ones adapt the technology. The company’s website offers a calculator for cost analyses that show a return on the investment against the cost of a collision.
“The person interested in the systems always calls the day after something happened and the owner, fleet manager or safety director is looking to see how they can prevent it from happening again,” says Schechter.
Jason Palmer, COO of SmartDrive Systems, says his company augments technology by assessing vehicle maneuvers considered risky or unsafe. “We work with companies to identify those situations by collecting video and sensor information like accelerometers, G-force, but also engine information from the engine control module,” he says. “We bring all of that information together to provide our customers with strong insight into the types of collisions and risks they’re getting into.”
In the solid waste industry, that entails difficult and risky maneuvers to back up to bins or Dumpsters, says Palmer. “There are two individuals in a truck and the practice may be the loader gets out of the truck and guides it back and assesses the traffic situation as they’re doing that to ensure that they are operating as safely as they can,” he notes.
SmartDrive’s technology offers analyzed event video; immediate offload; intelligent triggering that captures distracted and drowsy driving, aggressive speeding and U-turns; key performance indicators, analytics and benchmarking; 360-degree video insight and coaching workflow.
That is achieved through two primary cameras and sensors in the vehicle—one is rear-facing and one faces inward inside the cab, notes Palmer. It acquires engine information from its connection to the engine. The cameras have multiple sensors. A series of algorithms are constantly running to assess maneuvers.
SmartDrive Systems has technology specifically tuned to the solid waste industry that accounts for the “very bumpy and noisy environments” in which the collection vehicles operate, notes Palmer. “We ensure that we’re not triggering on those types of maneuvers but are triggering them on maneuvers or impacts of the vehicle considered risky or unsafe,” he says. “We do that with exception-based recording. We also provide an option for continuous video recording.”
SmartDrive Systems also leverages additional cameras in the vehicle to achieve the 360-degree visibility, Palmer points out. “If we identify a backing where they back from a long distance or were backing up at an excessive speed, we may trigger the camera,” says Palmer, adding that provides a more effective coaching session with vehicle operators on best practices for that type of situation.
“If they’ve backed into something and we have on there a special sensor tuned to identify crashes rather than maneuvers, that sensor goes off and we can identify there’s been a collision,” he adds. “The footage from those other cameras helps to understand what happened. You’re not limited to just the two forward-facing cameras in case there is a backing collision—you can see what’s happening all around them. You can get as much footage as you need for the entire backing incident.”
Palmer says there’s an emerging trend in the solid waste industry of drivers
getting distracted by looking at route stops on a clipboard or an electronic system. His company has a video showing a driver trying to read the location of the next stop on his clipboard. He misses a turn, stops and backs up into traffic. While he’s backing into traffic, the other drivers are trying to maneuver around him as he is backing up into the intersection.
The video illustrates how solid waste drivers can introduce themselves into risky situations, Palmer points out.
SmartDrive captures the different events and it goes to one of the company’s review analysts who review the video, add additional context and observation to the videos, which gets queued up for the coaching workflow.
Lefebvre notes that the Orlaco systems are designed to be robust and reliable, adding that Orlaco does research and development, testing, and certification of the cameras.
The company offers cameras that provide views from a variety of angles, different-sized monitors, and heavy-gauged cables.
Rothstein started his company when someone in another business he had lost a three-year-old son when his wife was backing out of a driveway in a large SUV and didn’t see her child running behind the vehicle. “A horrible thing happened to him,” adds Rothstein. “So what’s the price of safety?”