Magazine article USA TODAY

Slow Down to Get Around

Magazine article USA TODAY

Slow Down to Get Around

Article excerpt

AT 4 A.M., a refuse driver wakes up in his house in Kew Gardens, N.Y. He brews some coffee and grabs the lunch he packed the night before, quietly making his way out the door so as to not wake his wife and two teenage sons. He gets into his car and heads for the Grand Central Parkway to get to the yard where he will put on his reflective gear and get into his garbage truck. He will drive through busy streets for the rest of the workday; it is a routine he has been following five days a week for nearly 15 years.

As the driver starts his route, he takes special care to look at everything happening around his truck as he turns a comer. Midway through his route, he sees a driver texting on her phone, not paying attention to his truck making its way through the intersection. He slows down and shakes his head; this is something he sees all too often. An hour later, a soccer ball rolls into the street and a child, about six or seven years old, runs after it--the driver stops, his heart beating faster as he sees the boy's frantic mother out of his sideview window.

As he slows onto a street in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, two helpers hop off the back of his truck to collect waste from storefronts. The street is narrow and the driver of a red minivan behind him has little patience and zips around his truck and races off--the driver's crew jumps back just in time, the speeding van missing them by inches. It is just another day in this business--just another day of risky work to get the job done.

Every day, thousands of waste and recycling collection workers--what the public calls "garbagemen"--navigate the streets of our communities nationwide performing an important public health service. The individuals operating these trucks take great pride in their work and their contributions to keeping their communities clean and protecting the environment--and they know they have a responsibility to practice the safest behaviors possible, that their actions impact not only themselves, but those of the families and communities they serve.

For many years, members of the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), which represents the U.S.'s private waste and recycling industry, large and small, national and local, have championed best safety practices for their vehicles and their facilities, including comprehensive training, investment in safety technologies, and by empowering employees to practice workplace safety and being vigilant about the safety of the public we serve.

Increasingly, waste and recycling vehicles are equipped with cameras and technology that capture the activity occurring in and around our trucks. These technologies serve as valuable safety tools that ultimately make our jobs and roadways safer. When our driver in this story reaches his final destination, his supervisors will take the video recording of his day's activities and use the footage in training other drivers by highlighting best practices, common risks, and opportunities for improvement. Our members invest significantly in this type of equipment, as they constantly raise the bar for safety, performance, and service among drivers who are entrusted with large and heavy machinery that they must use properly and skillfully. Our drivers take this responsibility seriously and are active agents in the quest to make their work safer at every level.

Our driver and his employer know that the world of waste and recycling collection is evolving constantly, and there are new things to look out for on our nation's roadways. That is why, more and more, we are seeing our member companies position their drivers for increased education and national certification. To address these specialized needs of the industry and specific driving hazards regularly faced by waste collectors, NWRA conducts education and safety programs to prepare drivers and field workers, ensuring they have the foundational knowledge of safety best practices. …

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