Report Highlights Safety Concerns in Sanitation Industry

According to a report released by the National Commission of Inquiry into the Worker Health and Safety Crisis in the Solid Waste Industry and the Teamsters Union, a sanitation worker is 10 times more likely to die on the job than the average worker and regularly faces a variety of health and safety risks.

“Workers are closest to virtually every risk that the industry generates. They place their lives in harm’s way every day to protect the public’s health and keep our streets clean,” the report read. “They face hazards that include losing limbs in machinery, inhaling asbestos, handling used medical needles and human feces, and working 13-hour days.”

The report, “In Harm’s Way,” drew on in-depth interviews with solid waste drivers, mechanics and other workers, as well as the results of an anonymous questionnaire distributed to hundreds of sanitation workers across the country. The questionnaire primarily focused on Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), the largest company in the industry and employer of approximately 50,000 workers.

The questionnaire revealed that workers in the sanitation industry continue to face very real threats to their health on a daily basis, with working conditions that often include long hours and handling hazardous materials without proper safety equipment.

For example, questionnaire respondents reported coming into contact with hazardous substances, such as rotting meat (more than 72 percent), maggots or parasites (nearly 70 percent), used syringes (51.8 percent) and medical waste (43.5 percent).

Respondents also reported experiencing dizziness (15.3 percent), skin rash (26.4 percent), eye irritation (38.3 percent), difficulty breathing (15.5 percent) and other troubling symptoms as a result of their jobs.

“It is our hope that through this report, we can bring about broad change in this industry and at this company so that working in sanitation is no longer one of the most dangerous jobs in this country,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.

Report: WMI’s Safety Approach “Misguided”

The report also detailed systematic problems within WMI and indicated the company’s safety program uses an “archaic, misguided approach.”

The family of Raul Figueroa, a mechanic who died Jan. 3 in an accident at a WMI facility, supported the report’s release. Figueroa was killed when a truck’s hydraulic arm malfunctioned, pinning him against the cab and severing his body. By partnering with the Teamsters and other advocates, his family hopes to prevent this type of accident from occurring again.

“We hope that through our joint and continuous efforts with the Teamsters we can finally bring about regulations in this industry," said Alina Miranda, Figueroa’s widow. "We hope that Waste Management finally realizes that their employees are not just numbers, but human beings and as such they pay attention to their basic needs, needs such as parts, tools or safety equipment that could be the difference between life and death.”

To access the report, visit http://www.teamster.org.

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