The next time you take your garbage can to the street, you might take a moment to consider risks sanitation workers confront each day. A recent New York Times article shed light on the dangers that sanitation workers face in their daily duties. It was on a Saturday morning in 2013 when an 18-year-old waste worker was putting refuse in a garbage truck when the compactor on the vehicle crushed him between the truck and the payloader. The hydraulic arms of the machine crushed the very breath from his lungs and caused fatal injuries to his chest. He died at a hospital a few hours later.
The terrible death endured by the man, while it sounds like a freak accident, is more common than you might think. The dangers waste workers face across the country have been going on for decades. In fact, the hazards of this essential but dangerous work was the inspiration for a waste worker strike in 1968 in Memphis. That walkout was sparked by the deaths of two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker. Both men also were crushed by the hydraulic press of their garbage truck.
In the 1960s, it was mostly African-American men who did this difficult work that was simultaneously dangerous, poorly paid and brutal. In addition to hazards from the trucks, waste workers dealt with dangerous broken glass, tree limbs and waste materials that could injure them. They did this work in temperatures above 90 degrees, and serious personal injuries were common occurrences.
Decades later, similar accidents are still occurring, such as the tragedy in New York City in 2013. The investigation for the above incident showed that the conditions were not much different from those in Tennessee 50 years ago. Conditions are especially tough for privately employed waste workers who collect garbage from city businesses every evening. Workers employed by the city’s Department of Sanitation collect trash from houses, and they enjoy healthcare benefits and other union protections. They also have base pay of $69,000.
Workers for private sanitation companies are worse off. They may be paid only $80 per shift and have no overtime or healthcare. There also are times when one evening route can make dozens or even more than 100 stops, making workers rush through their tasks. This can cause lack of attention to safety. More than 60% of private sanitation workers in the New York area earn less than $35,000. For such low pay, private waste workers represented more than 80% of waste worker deaths in 2016. In New York, city sanitation trucks have not caused a worker’s death in four years, but private garbage trucks killed seven waste workers last year alone.
One might think that conditions for sanitation workers would be vastly improved from the height of the Civil Rights era. But here we are, 50 years later, and waste workers still risk and sometimes lose their lives to haul our garbage.
Lost a Loved One in a Work-Related Accident? Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney Today
Fortunately, you may have legal recourse if the worst happens. When poor work conditions are a factor in a serious injury or death, you or your loved ones can pursue civil legal action for damages that include pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills. The workplace accident attorneys at Guajardo and Marks will review your case at no cost to determine whether there is a possibility of financial recovery. Please call 972-774-9800 today.