The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has made a conscious effort during the COVID-19 pandemic to remind all state and local officials that solid waste collection, processing, and disposal must be considered an essential service. As such, waste collection and processing crews should be exempt from the most severe of the regulations concerning employees returning to work during the pandemic. SWANA has praised several cities, including Philadelphia and San Francisco, as well as the entire state of New York for expressly singling out waste management personnel as being among the most critical of the essential workers at this time. “I have been in contact with SWANA’s chapters and many haulers, state and local officials throughout the United States over the past few weeks, and have pledged SWANA’s support as we respond to this unprecedented situation,” said David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO.
Risks Possible Solid Waste Management Crews
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has included solid waste management personnel as being among those public service workers who have some of the highest potential exposures to COVID-19. Municipal waste and recycling workers are encouraged to approach any waste material that is being collected or processed with as much care as they normally would. Waste management facilities are also encouraged to continue to require the use of typical engineering and administrative controls to protect employees and staff, including state and locally approved safe work practices and requirements for basic personal protective equipment to be used while on the job.
Social Distancing Practices
There are a number of recommended steps that can be taken to enforce social distancing among staff and the public as a whole. It is recommended that interaction with the public be reduced by handling most queries and issues via phone or email. Drop-off locations for recycling and household hazardous waste can be temporarily closed routinely for better staffing and cleaning preparations. Workers are encouraged to avoid additional contact with another outside their assignment posts and normal personal contacts. The use of PPE changes to paperwork processing and alterations to facility operations can also help reduce contact. Some facilities can also reduce hours and staffing to reduce exposure, as well.
Cleanliness and Washings
Regular and thorough cleaning is also going to be needed at all waste management facilities, and officials recommend that routine cleanings of all common areas become the norm. Sanitizing and disinfecting common touch surfaces and items is required by most facility managers now, and this includes equipment, touch screens, control panels, phones, interior cabs of trucks, and other regularly used or shared items and devices. If possible, tablets, PPE, and similar pieces of work equipment should not be shared, and every worker should have their own devices as often as possible to reduce contamination and spread of the COVID-19 disease.
Leave and Paid Time Off
One of the most important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among waste management workers and staff is to have an all-encompassing and very supportive plan for testing and time off when needed. If a worker becomes ill or was exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID, they should not come to work. There should be supporting leave policies in place to support workers who isolate after exposure. Management should always encourage their workers to use sick days, paid time off, and special pandemic leave options as appropriate. A sick employee coming in for a shift endangers anyone, and it is better to cover 2 weeks off for a worker than to risk the entire facility having to shut down.
Closing Thoughts on COVID
SWANA reminds solid waste employers and employees to always check for updates, and new recommendations as the nature of the pandemic are very fluid and constantly changing. Recommendations and vital information can be found on SWANA’s website and is updated regularly. These essential workers provide vital public service, and we cannot do without them in normal situations but particularly so during a pandemic such as COVID-19! Contact us today to learn more.