Fenton — On Thursday, Aug. 29, much of the south part of the city’s trash, recycling and lawn waste was collected.
Blue bins with flipped lids denoted a completed route. Behind the waste collectors, the red lawn refuse truck is driven with a crew of two. One drives and the other rides in the back.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the recycling and solid waste disposal industry ranks as the fifth most dangerous job in the U.S.
In January, a sanitation worker with Dougie’s Disposal was critically injured in Deerfield Township when an 86-year-old Fenton man rear-ended their garbage truck.
Mike Sherfield with Republic Services is aware of how dangerous the job can be. “We get mixed up with other distracted drivers on the roadway,” he said. Sherfield is area safety manager for the Great Lakes Area of Republic Services, which includes Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
“When you’re operating on the roadways, it’s an uncontrolled work environment,” he said. When you take a large, slow-moving vehicle that shares the road with other faster vehicles and not paying attention, “it can cause a lot of havoc,” Sherfield said.
His drivers have seen other motorists putting on makeup, shaving, eating and texting on their phones. The same drivers also can be distracted by road
construction, billboards and road signs. All of this can be compounded with poor visibility in certain weather conditions.
Fortunately, no recent crashes come to mind with Republic, he said.
Sanitation workers have a unique job in that they’re both commercial drivers and hydraulic equipment operators. The compaction and automatic arm mechanisms are run by hydraulics.
Sherfield said defensive driving permeates every bit of training new drivers take. Training alone lasts three to six weeks.
Today, automated routes make up 70 percent of the Republic Services routes. The driver remains in the truck cab while an automated arm empties the waste container, making it a safer route system.
The rest are two-person, rear-loading trucks with a driver and a helper. “On average, the helper can lift 34 pounds per house,” spokesperson Deirdre Edgar said.
Fenton customers have various pick-up times for waste. On Thursday, the south part of the city along with the numbered streets were picked up with trash, recycling and lawn waste.
What can you do to help?
“Our customers can help our drivers by having all the trash on the curb the morning of their scheduled pickup and already separated by trash, recycling and yard waste,” she said.
Sherfield just asks motorists to follow the law — to slow down or go around garbage trucks. He also asks that drivers assume that when a truck is stopped, there could be a worker outside the truck.
Eliminating distractions keep sanitation workers and everyone safer. Sherfield is especially nervous at the first snow of the year or in times of fog.
This is another story in a series about dangerous jobs. More jobs will be featured in future Times editions.