A Systematic Approach to Reducing Trash and Waste Collection-Related Injuries
While it can be tempting for a purchasing department to save a few dollars by buying off-the-shelf products, smart health and safety professionals will insert themselves into this purchasing decision and look for vendors that offer purpose-built, customizable and integrated waste management solutions to meet their specific needs and challenges.
by Ray Lake
Every company—from an office or factory to a construction site or hospital—produces and, therefore, must dispose of waste. However, improper disposal, hauling and lifting practices can cause repetitive stress or back injuries, result in slip-and-fall incidents or expose workers to other workplace hazards. Taking a closer look at your facility’s waste stream and making a few simple changes can have a huge positive effect on workplace safety and injury prevention.
Three Key Areas
According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, janitors and cleaners suffered more than 46,000 injuries requiring days away from work and had the 16th highest injury rate of all occupations. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) estimates the average employer cost for a workplace back injury is $60,618. More than 60 percent of these were back and shoulder injuries, often caused by overexertion due to lifting or pushing heavy loads in carts, trashcans and dumpsters. To help minimize these injuries, it is important to think of facility waste management as an integrated process and analyze each facility’s waste stream rather than viewing things as discrete tasks. Simply put, waste stream management involves three key areas: collection/storage, transportation and disposal. The key to reducing back injuries is minimizing manual lifting and dumping in each phase of the process, so a facility’s choice of equipment is critical. Collection and Storage Wherever possible, opt for smaller recycling containers, waste receptacles and bins that can be easily unloaded or hoisted into larger containers. For larger containers, look for wheeled carts to allow easy movement throughout a facility. Although often overlooked, storage is also an important consideration. The location, size and features of waste storage equipment have a major impact on overall workplace safety and hygiene. Be sure to keep stored trash away from the general population as much as possible and look for containers with airtight seals and latches that prevent access from rodents and insects. Accessories such as cart liners and odor eliminators can also help keep things fresher and more sanitary.
Wheeled trash or janitorial carts make it easy to maneuver waste for short distances, but for covering longer distances, there are various towing options available to move many carts at once, including cube trucks, tilt trucks, dolly adapters and tow bars. Employing an automated dumping system for carts plays a major role in lightening the load for custodial staff. Not only is it important to choose dumpsters or front-end loaders that allow for automated dumping, but also choose carts that are compatible with a dumping system. Heavy-duty plastic carts with
gravity-latching lids and integrated and reinforced handles generally provide the best combination of durability, weight and ease of use.
Waste is at its greatest volume and weight in the disposal process, when it actually goes into a trash compactor or a large external waste receptacle. With such heavy loads, an automated lift option is essential. It is also important to remember that not all haulers are created equally, so whether you need regularly scheduled pickups, require an option for removing organic or hazardous materials, or would like to have your containers monitored for pickup as needed, choose a hauler wisely and be sure to check their equipment requirements to ensure compatibility with existing facility systems and processes.
Additional safety options for waste management equipment include: palm readers, safety cages, safety shut-off valves and reinforced frames, as well as color coding and custom graphics to make the appropriate use and intended purpose of each piece of equipment readily apparent. As in any safety matter, the availability of product manuals and proper training are also essential, and better equipment vendors will offer these options.
Critical Equipment Choices
The risk of serious injuries is even greater for hauling companies, so equipment choices are critical. Innovative manufacturers continue to lead the way in this area with the introduction of new products designed to decrease the risk of injury in trash collection and maintenance. For example, new balers feature automatic lift gates with safety interlock and auto shutdown. New container handlers with adjustable forks offer a safer means of transporting the containers by having them sit up on top of the chassis as opposed to hanging off the back of a truck. These forks also make on-the-spot repairs much easier and safer by providing the capability to lift a wide range of containers and loaders to perform needed maintenance in more ergonomic positions. Adding cart lifters can also deliver major safety benefits. By eliminating the burden of manual lifting and dumping, mobile and stationary lifters not only reduce the risk of workplace injuries, but also increase productivity by providing a quick and easy way to empty heavy waste and recycling carts, tilt trucks and mobile trucks into compactors or containers. Thanks to industry innovation and the increasing numbers of haulers and municipalities moving to fully automated systems, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national injury and illness rate for the solid waste industry has decreased by about 8 percent each year since 2003.
Ensuring Safety and Efficiency
Because no two facilities or hauling operations are exactly alike, there can be no one-size fits all approach to waste management equipment selection and processes. It is especially important that facilities and haulers work together to understand needs and requirements and use that information to implement a program that will ensure safety and efficiency. While it can be tempting for a purchasing department to save a few dollars by buying off-the-shelf products, smart health and safety professionals will insert themselves into this purchasing decision and look for vendors that offer purpose-built, customizable and integrated waste management solutions to meet their specific needs and challenges. Making more informed choices in this area provides a unique opportunity to improve both the overall work environment and the bottom line.
Ray Lake is the National Sales Manager for Toter Professional Products, a brand of Wastequip (Charlotte, NC). During his 20 years of experience, Ray has worked as a Commercial Manager for Tennant Company, a Distributor Sales Rep with Acorn Distributors and has trained healthcare and environmental services staff on workplace safety practices. He can be reached at (614) 563-6545 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.toter.com/request-information. For more information on solutions for better waste stream management, visit www.toter.com/professional and http://go.wastequip.com/3Step.