Although the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health does not have specific safety standards to regulate sanitation workers and vehicles, employers must comply with general safety standards to keep employees in this industry safe. Although automated side-loaders have made a significant difference in the exposure garbage collectors face, these workers continue to come in contact with garbage and multiple other hazards. Collectors of refuse and recyclable materials without proper safety training face life-threatening risks.
If you are a garbage collector in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California, your job will expose you to lifting dangers and contact with hazardous contents of garbage bags. Besides, your movements in and out of traffic will add even more occupational hazards.
One of the most commonly reported work-related injuries in this industry involves vehicles striking garbage workers. As you navigate through traffic to bring garbage to the truck, the risks of the truck hitting you are significant. Furthermore, you might risk injury when you hang suspended from the rear or sides of the garbage truck from one stop to the next to avoid wasting time by climbing in and out of the cab each time.
The heavy equipment typically used, such as the sanitation trucks, garbage compactors and even front-end loaders, can cause serious injuries. Safety authorities say your job ranks as one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.
Frequent lifting of heavy objects can cause long-term problems that might include hernias and spinal damage. Musculoskeletal injuries, such as sprains, strains and torn ligaments, are also common among garbage collectors. You know that the weight of a garbage bag is unknown until you lift it. You might avoid injuries by learning safe lifting techniques and remembering that there is nothing wrong with asking for a co-worker's help.
Weather conditions play a significant role in your ability to avoid injuries. Rain, high winds, snow and ice pose obvious slip-and-fall hazards, but the areas surrounding garbage containers are often slippery from liquids leaking from the garbage. You might mitigate these risks by wearing shoes that provide excellent traction.
Dangerous garbage bag contents
Just like not knowing the weight of a garbage bag until you pick it up, you will not know its contents. Heedless owners dump anything from broken glass, metal blades, syringes and other objects that can cause cuts or puncture wounds. Once you lift and carry the bags, unexpected injuries could occur.
Chemical and biological HazMat risks
Other dangers garbage collectors face include the risk of inhaling toxic fumes from hazardous materials and chemical waste dumped into garbage bags. It could be pesticides, battery acid, bleach, radioactive waste or any other imaginable harmful chemical. Wearing long sleeves, long pants, heavy boots and protective gloves can prevent infections, injuries, poisoning, respiratory damage and burns.
Foraging pests and vermin, like mice, rats and roaches, are typical around garbage bags. Frequent visitors to garbage bags also include raccoons and birds, and people often dump the carcasses of dead pets in this way. Any bites or contact with these objects -- dead or alive -- can cause rabies, rat-bite fever and other illnesses and infections.
Even if you have been a garbage collector for many years without suffering injuries, becoming complacent can make your job even more dangerous. Fortunately, if you suffer injuries in a work-related accident, the California workers' compensation insurance system will have your back. The benefits claims process might seem daunting, but an experienced attorney can help you to recover medical expenses and lost wages.