State Lawmakers Focus on Refuse Worker Safety

Jul 25, 2013

Members of the Joint Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee hear testimony on the safety concerns of refuse workers. Trash and recyclable collector is one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

When people hear the term “dangerous jobs,” the top occupations that come to mind may be fireman or police officer, but one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States is that of a refuse worker.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, several recent articles list refuse and recyclable materials collector as the fourth most dangerous job in the country.  

“Nobody thinks about it. I don’t think the public thinks about it,” said Representative Tony DeLuca (D-32), “I think an awareness campaign and what we can do on the legislative side, to make sure these individuals who are going to do this kind of stuff — they’re going to realize they’ll pay a heavy penalty for what they do.”

A joint Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Pittsburgh Thursday explored the issue. Representative Dom Costa (D-21) has introduced legislation that would increase penalties for driving recklessly around refuse workers and require enhanced lighting warning devices on garbage and recycling trucks. But lawmakers say that likely won’t be enough.

“There’s really only so much we can do,” said Rep. Joseph Markosek (D-25). “At some point in time the public has to take responsibility for themselves. We can’t ban everything, every type of distraction and those kinds of things.”

Representatives from Teamsters Local 249 addressed the lawmakers. Business agent Joe Popinski said so many refuse workers are injured or killed when motorists are not paying attention and driving in a hurry.

“There’s nothing you’ve ever seen in your life except for a vehicle coming at you while you’re trying to do your job — it’s a frightening experience,” Popinski said. “Most people say, just like when they hit motorcyclists, ‘I never seen it.’ You can’t see a truck with all them lights on? People wearing more and more reflective material so you can see them? And they’re still being hit and injured.”

In addition to the legislation, lawmakers said a major public education campaign is needed to raise awareness on the issue.

Nationwide, the injury rate for refuse workers is 6.3 injuries per 100 workers. That’s a higher rate than occupations such as coal mining and construction.

So far this year, about 17 refuse workers have been killed on the job, including one Bucks County. Dozens more have been injured.