One of the occupation’s latest fatalities occurred Jan. 9, when a 38-year-old New Jersey sanitation worker was run over and killed while attempting to climb aboard his trash collection vehicle. A similar accident in Edison in 2002 claimed the life of an 18-year-old sanitation worker, who died when he fell from a truck while it was traveling in reverse.
Impatient motorists who drive around garbage trucks on narrow streets often are the source of accidents involving sanitation workers. The garbage itself is also inherently dangerous. Harry Nespoli, union head for New York City’s sanitation workers, said he recalls an incident when a truck compacted a container of acid and it exploded in a worker’s face, killing him.
Worker fatigue is also an issue. A typical eight-hour shift for numerous sanitation workers involves the lifting and loading of up to five tons of trash, leaving the worker tired and his judgment impaired.
The National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities surveillance system showed that between 1980 and 1992, 450 workers ages 16 or older died in incidents related to garbage collection. Of these deaths, 110 occurred when the worker slipped or fell from the truck and was run over.
Just last year in neighboring New York, the state senate sponsored legislation that would require sanitation workers to receive job-specific training. The justification for the bill is that garbage collection is dangerous and that sanitation workers could benefit from safety training.