One of the most dangerous jobs in the US, which ranked in the top 5 occupations for fatal work injuries, is sanitation work. This job includes heavy lifting and working with toxic material on a daily basis. Garbage collectors are considered essential workers. They, along with healthcare workers, retail employees, and Uber drivers, are working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
— Reg Saddler (@zaibatsu) May 10, 2020
FastCompany published a piece over the weekend sharing that collectors say dangerous conditions have increased as well. Also, their calls for more protections are being ignored. “We don’t feel safe at all,” Demetrius Tart, who has worked with Republic Services for 14 years, told FastCompany. Republic Services is one of the largest waste collection providers in the country.
Tart’s day-to-day duties include residential trash collection. He told FastCompany that, “The volume of trash has shot through the roof.” This is most likely due to millions of Americans staying home, ordering packages from Amazon, and wearing masks and gloves. Whatever the cause, this puts more stress on sanitation workers, and Tart fears it puts them at a higher risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.
Workers across the country echo Tart’s sentiments and say they don’t have the necessary safety equipment — puncture-proof gloves, face masks, protective eyewear, and face shields. Not only do sanitation workers have to collect garbage, but sometimes customers come close to them. “I pick up at least 1,100-plus homes a day,” Tart says, “I don’t know who I’m coming in contact with.”
Tart is also worried about contamination inside garbage trucks. He says that they only just recently received disinfectant spray to clean the interiors. Workers are also worried about strangers being inside of their vehicles for cleaning purposes. “We need to keep as many people from touching our stuff as possible,” Tart says. He shares the details of what it is like to clean behind the blades. This is when workers have to climb inside the truck beds, touching the loose trash and “garbage juice” in order to clean stuff that may have gotten stuck behind the blades that compact the trash.
Think about what’s inside of a garbage truck. Soiled diapers from nursing homes — one of the types of places most heavily infected with COVID-19 — food waste, and so much more. “You’re literally walking in that stuff to clean your truck. Stuff is splattering, there’s no protective gear for that whatsoever, no face shields, no Tyvek suits. And then you’re taking that back to your home,” Tart told FastCompany.
Featured image courtesy Volvo Trucks