Garbage and recycling collection services are a crucial part of any municipality, yet the vehicles are often overlooked for the dangers they pose. Perhaps it’s because they mostly operate in the morning, often in the pre-dawn or early hours, that many people don’t consider the implications of an accident involving a waste collection truck. However, when these accidents do happen, they’re often catastrophic or deadly.

In fact, refuse and recycling collection trucks rank number five among occupational fatalities in the US. Moreover, industry watchdogs reported an unprecedented number of fatalities involving garbage and recycling trucks in January 2019 alone—17 in the first 22 days of that month, which is striking in comparison to the 30 total fatalities that were recorded throughout the entirety of 2017.

A campaign of awareness

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) works to increase awareness of the dangers of waste collection trucks. There have been numerous efforts to call attention to the hazards of the occupation, particularly for employers who may demand long hours at odd times of the day, putting workers at risk for falling asleep at the wheel, collisions, or dangerous accidents involving the truck’s mechanical functions. In some cases, like a few that were documented in New York, the employers rush employees to finish their work in a shorter timeframe than is realistic, causing dangerously reckless behavior.

Other accidents occur simply because of the dangerous machinery involved in garbage collection, or by passing vehicles. Mechanical failures, driver errors, and the narrow alleys and streets the trucks must navigate all pose risks.

The following are several case examples of horrifying fatalities among garbage and recycling collection workers, as compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

  • A worker is thrown off the back of a moving garbage truck, in some cases due to the truck speeding, and dies or endures catastrophic injuries
  • A worker is crushed by the garbage truck or another vehicle after falling off
  • A worker gets caught and pinned between the truck and another object or vehicle
  • A worker is killed by the truck’s hydraulic lift or by mechanical parts inside the truck’s hopper
  • A worker is struck and killed or severely injured by another vehicle as it passes the truck

Waste and refuse collections workers put themselves in danger with each workday for a fairly thankless occupation. What options do they and their families have when the unthinkable happens?

For one thing, seeking legal council is an important step. Many workers in the industry risk retaliation and firing for speaking up about the perils of their jobs when it falls into the hands of the companies they work for, so an attorney can provide a strong route to building a personal injury case. Similarly, family members of deceased workers who died on the job should hire an attorney if they believe they have the grounds to file a wrongful death suit.

Holding companies accountable for life-altering accidents on the job is just one piece of a larger issue, but it’s a start. Seeking damages for a catastrophic injury or tragic death won’t change the fact that it happened, but it’s a way to call attention to the issue while compensation to help with the costs of these occupational tragedies.