An Unlikely Hero
Making small changes to trash and waste collection practices can dramatically reduce workplace injuries and illness.
- By Jeniffer Coates
- Jun 28, 2017
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.
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 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, trash cans, and dumpsters.
To help minimize these injuries, it's important to think of 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 four key areas: collection, transportation, storage, 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: 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.
- Transportation: Wheeled trash or janitorial carts make it easy to move carts 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. It is important not only to choose dumpsters or front-end loaders that allow for automated dumping, but also to choose a cart that is compatible with this 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.
- Storage: In most facilities, trash will sit somewhere before it is properly disposed. While this phase is not a key driver of back injuries, the location, size, and features of this storage place 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 air tight seals and latches that prevent access from rodents and insects. Accessories such as cart liners and odor eliminators can also help keep thing fresher and more sanitary.
- Disposal: 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's also important to remember that not all haulers are created equally, so whether you need regularly scheduled pick-ups, require an option for removing organic or hazardous materials, or would like to have your containers monitored for pick-up 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.
Because no two facilities are exactly alike, there can be no one-size fits all approach to waste management equipment selection and processes. 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, customized, 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.