The nation’s deadliest job is not what you think

Sep 12 2017

Police officers and professional firefighters understand the dangers inherent in their jobs. They all recognize any day that they leave for work could be the day when they will not come home.

Yet, as risky as those professions are, being a trash collector means holding the most dangerous job in the country. Garbage workers are far more likely to die while on the job.
Fatalities are on the rise, with deaths in 2015 peaking to the highest point in a decade.

The most significant danger they face every day is being struck and killed by other drivers passing their routes. Drivers who are distracted. Drivers who are more interested in looking at their smart phone instead of their surroundings.

Trash collectors usually work in the morning in residential neighborhoods. People are rushing to get to work or school while the sun is low. Collectors have their backs to oncoming traffic and cannot see when a car is approaching and not slowing down.

It is a deadly combination.

In response to the alarming number of fatalities, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has teamed with cities and trash-hauling companies to increase public awareness of the risks garbage and recycling workers face. Getting the word out over the past decade has taken the form of social media posts, truck decals, rallies and public service announcements.

State legislatures have also taken note of the growing problem, enacting severe penalties for negligent drivers. Sixteen have passed “Slow Down to Get Around” laws over the past few years.

While laws vary state to state, the common denominator involves increasing penalties for drivers who collide with garbage workers. Many equate trash trucks to emergency vehicles that require lane changes and posted speed limits of 10 to 15 mph.

Michigan was the first to pass the law in 2009, calling for felony charges against drivers who kill or injure garbage truck workers. Other states have followed their example, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.