[Good news! My recycling was collected today, May 23, and the truck had a semi-automatic lift to assist. I am so glad to see this. This changes much of what I have said below.]
Our Anne Arundel County (Maryland) government recently delivered new, huge recyling containers to each home. I was delighted. Instead of having to drag my two smaller old yellow recycling cans to the curb, my new container has wheels and a lid. I put my foot on the tilt section at the bottom and the container tilts back on its wheels while I hold the handle and roll it to the curb. Now, instead of two containers, I only have to deal with one. This is definitely an improvement…
… Or so I thought until I stood curbside and watched two recycling employees try unsuccessfully to lift my new cart to empty into the truck. The older of the two finally decided to do it himself and got the job done. I lamented to him that it was too heavy and that they should not be expected to lift these. He smiled and claimed, “Oh, it ain’t so heavy.” I asked when they would start using the automatic trucks. I assumed, because of the design with the lower lift bar, that they were designed for automatic trucks. He responded, “I don’t know nothing about that.” Then he added, “You have a good day!”
These new containers are 65 gallon-size, 41” in height, 27” wide and 28” deep. My guess was that they weighed about 25 pounds empty, but when I checked with the county Recycling Division, I found out they really weigh 36 pounds—empty. I thought that could not be right, so I called the manufacturer, Rehrig Pacific Company, and it confirmed the weight was 36 pounds, empty.
True, they appear to be quite sturdy and built to last. The product seems to be a good one. The problem comes when I read our county’s rules. Its Web site has not been updated, but the rule for the largest of the older-style containers was that everything should be limited to 40 pounds total. I assumed that was for concern of the recycling workers.
Now, if the limit is 40 pounds, do the math -- we can add just 4 pounds to max out.
“Please note that you do not need a yellow recycling container to recycle in Anne Arundel County; you can use any container that works best for you, just be sure to mark it with "X" and please make sure the loaded container does not weigh more than 40 pounds.”
If the weight limit is raised, then the problem is that recycling workers will be asked to lift more weight than is reasonable.
Stack up a week of newspapers and junk mail, four or five wine bottles, empty metal, glass and cardboard food containers, some old magazines, lots of plastic, we can come close to filling that cart, and it will surely be way over the weight limit.
The county’s recycling slogan is, “Recycle. More. Often.” It even publishes a map comparing quantities collected from various areas of the county, along with grades. My area earns a grade of B-.
I am concerned about the men who pick up these heavy containers. I expected that semi-automatic trucks would be used, which means the men would roll the cart to a ground-level platform and then push a button which would raise and tilt to dump the contents of the carts. Last Friday, in my neighborhood, the old trucks came as usual and these men were lifting more than the usual weight. I wonder if they will be making more money and if they will be given more time off for back injuries.
On Facebook, I found a page for AAC recycling. Another woman had posted her concern for the weight that workers had to deal with. The county’s response:
“…many of the trucks are equipped with them already. It is the contractor's choice to dump by hand. They find the carts are light (as most recycling is empty bottles, cans, etc.) and it's faster for them to do it that way.”
Really? Did anyone tell the county that the containers it is using are designed for automatic or semi-automatic truck loading? Do they think that a quantity of empty bottles is light? The company that makes these recycling carts specifies that they are designed for semi-automatic or automatic collection.
When I tried to find through OSHA what weight limits would be recommended for sanitation workers, I found a very complex math formula (see link notes below) that required specific measurements for actions of a particular job.
It is reasonable to predict that workers will be lifting 50 pounds or more, one after another, throughout the neighborhood. They roll the cart to the truck (the easy part), pick it up high enough to reach the mouth of the truck and twist their bodies to empty the container’s contents. Our community has more than 400 houses. This constant, repetitive action most likely will lead to more serious back injuries.
OSHA recognizes the dangers:
“Workers involved in waste collection may be at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from workplace activities which force them to work beyond their physical capacities (i.e., lifting an item that is too heavy, or lifting too often, or working in awkward body postures). MSDs are a serious problem as they can increase the number of employee lost workdays, increase insurance costs, increase training and staffing costs, and reduce operation efficiency and quality. Improvements in the workstation designs, work pace, work postures, weight of materials and other changes allow workers to work within their physical limits and will likely reduce the number [of] errors, sick days, and injuries and enable workers to be more productive and produce a higher quality product. Ergonomic improvements are often simple and obvious, such as sorting on elevated tables, the use of simple lifting mechanisms, and rotating workers through different job tasks.”
“Like other professions that require physical labor, garbage collecting can put tremendous strain on your body as well. In some cities, trash pickup crews still run an average of 20 miles a day behind moving garbage trucks. "Vehicular traffic and repeated lifting while on the run causes thousands of crippling injuries each year," says labor historian Earl Dotter. According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2006 there were over 3,000 instances of lost workdays nationally because of injuries to garbage collectors working for private haulers. This figure does not even include injuries or lost days for garbage collectors working for county and city collection services. Some injuries stem from constantly repeating awkward movements, such as jumping in and out of garbage trucks and lifting cans that can sometimes weigh 100 pounds or more. The weight and the often-awkward positions can cause back strain and ankle sprains.”