WasteExpo 360, the largest annual gathering of waste and recycling industry leaders, is always a fantastic opportunity to learn and network, but this year’s show exceeded all expectations. The thing that was on everyone’s mind? Safety and the ongoing labor shortage.
Promoting safety is my passion, and it was exciting to finally see the issue become the focus of dialogue industry-wide. Companies are realizing that ignoring safety or keeping it siloed from the rest of their operations is no longer an option. As the fifth most dangerous industry in the U.S., waste and recycling has reached a tipping point. Here are some highlights:
- Stricter laws. “Slow Down to Get Around,” an initiative started by the National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA) has already been adopted in 23 states. The law says that drivers can be cited for passing a garbage truck. This is important legislation because two-thirds of all fatalities in the industry are the result of transportation incidents often caused by distracted drivers. While there still needs to be awareness built around this law, it’s a positive step toward safety and decreasing liability on the driver and waste company when accidents are litigated.
- Safer operational culture. Safety and operations are often distinguished as separate functions, but leaders are starting to see them as the same thing. Safety can’t just be a slogan. It has to filter down throughout the organization.
- Better training for temp workers. You can train your employees all you want to keep them safe, but you have to train your temps, too. In an industry that relies heavily on temp employees, this can be a grey area from a liability standpoint when a temp worker is injured. Safety measures can be expensive and difficult to implement, but more companies are understanding the emotional and financial importance of training their transient work force.
- Automation and robotics. New technologies on garbage and recycling trucks are keeping workers out of harm’s way. From mechanical arms that lift cans, to outfitting trucks with rounded windows for better range of vision, technology can keep workers from being exposed to traffic and other dangers. More use of robotics in treatment facilities can also improve safety.
Attracting and retaining employees in waste and recycling jobs is one of the single biggest challenges that companies and municipalities face. The labor shortage is a pervasive problem that has many industry leaders talking. How can they attract a work force? How can they reach younger generations? What needs to change? Here are some thoughts from the conference:
- Better perks. Waste companies can improve employee benefits, implement safety incentives and offer bonuses, as well as work on company culture through things like cookouts.
- Company culture. Creating a culture where people are excited to come to work and feel like they’re making a difference is important in attracting millennials and Gen Z job candidates. Aligning with younger generational values requires employers be more tuned in to their workers.
- Creative recruiting. The industry’s workforce is aging, so some companies are taking their recruitment efforts to technical schools and high schools. With a nationwide shortage of qualified drivers, waste companies are also partnering with tractor trailer companies to offer training programs free of charge to potential candidates.
- Better tech. Advances in technology like newer, cleaner trucks with beautiful cabs, comfortable seats and more environmentally friendly vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) are all currency in the quest for attract workers.
Waste and recycling companies of all sizes are acknowledging that they need to make a commitment to safety. It makes sense as a way to attract talent, boost morale, and protect your bottom line in a litigious society. Above all, when an employee comes to work, we want to make sure they go home at night.
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