Building a Safe Operational Culture for the Industry
As North America's largest solid waste, recycling, organics, and sustainability tradeshow, WasteExpo 2019, held in Las Vegas, Nevada was the place to address and tackle the challenges faced by waste and recycling industries today. Sharing breakthroughs, innovations and business ideas, 14,000+ participants, 609 exhibitors, and over 1,400 international attendees participated in networking and more than 60 interactive programs and educational sessions at the event, May 6 – 9th.
The PRECO Electronics team had the pleasure of attending several panel discussions, symposiums and presentations, and found many had the underlying theme of Safety. In recent years, the North American waste industry has been struggling with what some industry professionals call safety aches and pains. Outlined in the, 'Taking Safety from the Executive Office to the Frontline' presentation, these aches and pains include: repeat incidents, employee ownership, resource constraints, complacency, management involvement, communication gaps, employee turnover, check the box activities, investment, supervisor leadership, plateaued results, and loss of business.
According to the Solid Waste Association of North America's (SWANA) recent fatality report, the waste and recycling sectors in the U.S. and Canada recorded 22 deaths in the first month of 2019. Of those, 15 were members of the public killed in collisions involving collection vehicles and eight were operators who lost their lives on the job. In January 2018, seven fatalities were reported in the first ten days, and by the end of the month, the number rose to 19 deaths. Both January 2018 and 2019 hold the highest number of fatalities the industry has ever seen in a single month.
"Identifying that we have a problem is only the first step, as we now need to come together as an industry to put a stop to this epidemic of tragic events," reported SWANA News. As safety figures head in the wrong direction, the waste industry has had to take a hard look at the cause and effect of preventable incidents and how to create sustainable solutions tailored to the unique needs of the industry. Through research and experience, experts and seasoned professionals touched on autonomous vehicles, safety technologies, the holes within traditional improvement efforts, compliance versus standards, changing the tough-guy culture, policies and procedures, accountability, and the six criteria of safety excellence. Here are some of the key takeaways from the sessions:
More of the same is not the answer. In a traditional improvement process, an injury occurs, and management reacts with increased activities such as education, training, audits, compliance, discipline, policies and procedures, or even hiring additional safety professionals. Due to the repetitiveness of the improvement process and the low retention rate among operators, the industry has found that these efforts don’t fix the problem, but actually have led to fewer incidents being reported out of fear of increased measures and discipline. Which in turn slows the improvement process, creating more barriers. It is important to remember that when low injury rates are reported, it does not necessarily reflect the overall safety environment.
Many companies still don't pay for safety until there is an incident. In several sessions, presenters acknowledged the waste industry as a whole for putting aside competitiveness when it comes to safety, saying everyone strives to keep employees and the public safe and understands the importance of working together. While others said, safety is not a company issue, but an industry issue, as there is still a widely held belief within the industry that to make money you need to sacrifice safety.
However, during one of the Safety Symposium Panels featuring Jane Dolezal, Homewood Disposal; Dave Jaeger, Texas Pride Disposal; Curt Saffle, Dick's Sanitation, it was noted that the cost of outfitting an entire fleet with safety technology is the equivalent of a single lawsuit. Incidents involving collection vehicles come at a price according to SWANA's data: Backing accidents involving only property damage cost a minimum average of $7,400, accidents involving injuries cost a minimum average of $27,558, and a minimum of $500,000 in the unfortunate event of a fatality. So, the key is to strategize and plan the layout of the outfit, so it doesn't carry such a substantial upfront cost.
"Safety is not about compliance, it's about standards and being proactive," OSHA's Dr. David Michaels said during the Safety Symposium. "The relationship between safe operational culture and profitability are tied together. Do a better job – do it right – make more money."
It's been proven that if a company operates safely and takes safety seriously, like ALCOA, Exxon Mobile and Hasbro for example, it will be more profitable. Dr. Michaels went on to explain the term "safety culture" can be misleading at times. But, with top-down adoption using the term-of-phrase safe operational culture instead, workers can feel fully empowered in knowing their lives are more important than any piece of equipment the company owns. To drive this message home and further combat safety issues, the 'Taking Safety from the Executive Office to the Frontline' panel created the Six Criteria for Safety Excellence:
- Top leaders are visibly committed
- Middle managers are actively involved
- Supervisors are involved dynamically; ensuring employees have all the tools needed to complete tasks correctly and safely, with well-communicated performance measurements
- Front line employees are actively participating and engaged in safety, and are involved in creating a safety program
- Have a positively perceived safety program
- Create a flexible safety system and activities – meaning there is no size fits all, and each individual location may need their own safety system in place
By increasing employee engagement from the top-down, ensuring policies and procedures are efficient, getting out in the field with employees and understanding their trials and tribulations with safety and equipment, and adopting new technologies designed to avoid incidents and mitigate collisions, the industry has an opportunity to turn the safety statistics around.
While waste companies continue to increase their efforts to keep people safe, distracted driving is leading to too many fatalities in the industry and has become an epidemic. The question was posed, how do you educate the public and law enforcement about Slow Down to Get Around initiatives, and just get people to pay attention while driving? When asked if he could wave a magic wand and have any wish granted, Shawn Mandel of Waste Connections said he would ask that cell phones be configured to automatically disable while in a moving vehicle.
Everyone in the industry feels the pressures of keeping people safe and the public needs to understand the vital role they play in making sure everyone makes it home safely at the end of each day, too. That’s a struggle we will continue to have to combat across the board.
Safety leaders, seasoned industry professionals, and experts within waste and recycling have researched these solutions and put them into practice. PRECO Electronics is proud to be a part of the solution which will help the waste industry improve its safe operational culture, and save the lives of those in and around waste and recycling equipment.