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Waste collection workers have one of the most dangerous jobs. Every day on the road they face the risk of being seriously injured or even killed by a distracted or impatient driver.

Last December, a Wisconsin city mourned the loss of a sanitation worker and local pastor who was struck by a Mustang that crashed into the back of a municipal garbage truck while he was collecting recyclables. According to FOX6 Now, the worker was found pinned between the car and the back of the truck before being taken to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries.

Closer to home, a worker in 2012 was struck by a Sport Utility Vehicle while collecting garbage in Ottawa and later died from his injuries. According to CTV News, the worker, who was 46 years old at the time of the accident, had just gotten engaged before he lost his life.

Incidents, like these, are tragically part of a larger problem. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States found in its 2015 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary that refuse and recyclable material collection, as an occupation, had the fifth highest fatal work injury rate. In 2015, 33 waste collectors were killed on the job – a 22% increase from the previous year.  

The risk is real. That’s why it has been addressed by many jurisdictions across North America, including British Columbia, with new laws to require drivers to slow down and move over for waste collection workers and vehicles. Ontario, however, has not yet taken action.

It’s been a decade and a half since the Ontario government passed legislation to make it mandatory to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles. The Highway Traffic Act was amended again in 2015 to extend the same protections to tow-truck drivers in the province. The penalties for breaking this law are serious. Drivers can receive a fine of $400 to $2,000 and three demerit points for their first infraction. While enforcement remains essential, this legal change has sent a clear message to drivers that the safety of roadside workers must take priority. Unfortunately, waste collectors still do not enjoy the same protections in Ontario.

British Columbia, by contrast, protects all roadside workers. In 2014, the B.C. government strengthened its Motor Vehicle Act to require drivers to slow down and move over for “all vehicles stopped alongside the road that have flashing red, blue or yellow lights.” This legislative update not only improved safety but also simplified traffic rules for drivers.

South of the border, more states continue to move forward on this issue. Last September, according to Waste Dive, New York became the 12th state to pass a law to require drivers to slow down and get around garbage trucks, and Connecticut may soon become the 13th if a bill with similar requirements is passed by the state’s legislature. 
 
With so many jurisdictions adopting this sensible reform, there’s no reason that Ontario should be any different. We believe roadside workers deserve the same protections no matter where they live or what uniform they wear.

That is why the OWMA is calling for Ontario to bring its traffic laws into line with what is becoming the standard for roadside safety in North America. The time has now come for our province to pass a slow down, move over law for waste collection workers.

These changes will provide a safer working environment for waste collectors and help ensure they can safely go home to their families after a long-day on the job.

(This op-ed was published in the April/May issue of Solid Waste & Recycling Magazine.)