/ Social /
Safety is more than just a priority for WM—it is a core value.
A large number of our team members are drivers, heavy equipment operators and sorters—critical jobs that carry inherent risks. For nearly 20 years, we have engaged employees on safety practices through the Mission to Zero (M2Z), where the “Zero” represents zero tolerance for unsafe actions or conditions. Based on the results of a 2021 safety culture assessment survey, WM updated our Safety Vision and Promise to be better aligned with the concept of safety as a core value. Our new Vision statement captures our desire to have all employees and community members “Get Home Safe, Every Day”.
WM continues to measure performance using leading and lagging indicators such as Total Recordable Injury Rate (TRIR), Days Away/Restricted/Transferred Rate (DART), and Hourly Accident Recordable Rate (HARR). We have outperformed the Bureau of Labor Statistics waste industry average for TRIR and DART and have recently set a goal to improve our TRIR to below a 2.0 by 2030. Every employee from the Board of Directors to frontline employees are aligned and focused on improving these lagging indicators by ensuring that we all get home safe, every day.
Additionally, WM is working to add leading indicator metrics to help identify unsafe conditions and address them before they become safety incidents. This initiative will provide additional visibility and help drive change to further protect our employees from injuries, illnesses, or vehicle incidents. We continue to use our Operations Rules Books and Occupational Health & Safety Management System to ensure all aspects of our operations provide the highest level of safety to our employees and the communities we serve.
Striving for a Safer Tomorrow
WM has a responsibility to create and maintain the safest possible work environment for all employees and contractors, which is one way we put People First. A well-trained workforce is a safer workforce and is also one that works more consistently. This allows us to safely serve our customers as efficiently and effectively as possible. These three objectives—safety, service and savings—are the heart of the WM Way program, a set of standards followed by Collection, Dispatch and Fleet Operations to help teams carry out complex and routine tasks. The WM Way includes standardized daily processes to ensure vehicle inspections are performed correctly, drivers are routed safely and efficiently, and includes daily employee and leadership huddles to ensure a consistent performance management process.
These structured processes are designed to foster knowledge-sharing and employee engagement, as well as, to help shift mindsets and create a culture of continuous improvement and teamwork. To track the effectiveness of the WM Way as it is implemented across sites, we created a monthly scorecard which scores each area on eight indicators of safety, service and savings.
The WM SAFETY Defensive Driving System helps train and provide safe driving instruction that is specific to waste-collection vehicles. This system is paired with our Driver Science Series, a monthly video communication that address hazards in drivers’ daily operating environments. Topics include safe backing, following distances, pedestrians, bicyclists, rollover prevention and more. Videos are paired with discussions, observations and coaching to ensure consistent understanding and application for all drivers.
WM maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding the most serious risks faced by our employees identified as our “life critical rules”. We provide continuous training around the risks identified in these rules such as hazardous energy control, proper spacing between equipment, seatbelt and cell phone usage.
Another way we put People First is by incorporating their insights into our decision-making processes. In early 2021, WM conducted a comprehensive safety assessment consisting of an anonymous survey and listening sessions with employees. These sessions have and will continue to shape how WM approaches safety improvements with our nearly 50,000 employees and contractors.
WM participates in the National Waste and Recycling Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, and American National Standards Association to help contribute to industry standards for safe operations in the waste and recycling industry. We also engage other vendors, transportation and service sector leaders to share best practices and participate in dialogue related to training, recruiting, retention, technology and more.
Safety on the Road
As a company whose drivers spend the majority of their day in our communities serving our customers, WM has a range of programs to address risks unique to road safety and transportation. An increase in equipment automation helps to mitigate some of these risks. For example, over half of our residential routes rely on automated or semiautomated loading equipment, which reduces the number of times our employees must exit the truck while collecting trash and recyclables. This technology helps reduce fatigue and limits the need for employees to bend and lift heavy bins, which decreases the risk of sprain and strain injuries.
Advanced driver assistance systems, such as electronic stability control and active braking, which can slow or stop our vehicles in the event of an emergency in front of our vehicle, will be included on most new WM collection vehicles beginning in 2023. Vehicle telematics systems help communicate any needed repairs to our shops, which helps ensure our drivers don’t experience disruptions in equipment availability, impacting their ability to safely and efficiently service their customers.
WM continues to leverage advances in machine vision and artificial intelligence present in the Lytx DriveCam system to provide feedback to our drivers to help them correct any unsafe driving behaviors in real time. As of 2023, all WM vehicles used on the roadway have real time audio notifications enabled ensuring our drivers and the communities we serve are kept safe.
Finally, the WM SmartTruck system allows for validation and identification of issues while providing service to our customers and helps to ensure that unsafe or unauthorized wastes do not find their way into our post collection and MRF facilities. Beyond the safety benefits, these enhancements lead to greater driver satisfaction and retention.
Improved road safety policies also help keep drivers safe. Collection drivers must constantly be on the lookout for other drivers, particularly those in a hurry to pass collectors during stops, which is when accidents often occur. WM supports “Slow Down to Get Around” legislation, which requires drivers to slow down when passing collection trucks.
Just as we work to continually improve the safety of fleet personnel through technology, legislation and training, we also work with trade associations, customers and communities to identify how they can protect employees within our post-collection facilities, which include transfer stations, MRFs and landfills.
We are increasing safety in recycling facilities through improved processing equipment, additional operating protocols and efforts to reduce inbound contamination from recycling bins. These advanced sorting systems help to remove material and contaminates from the sorting stream before they are manually sorted. Investments in auger screens, optical sorting equipment, and sorting robotics all help to reduce the potential for injury related to manual material handling. Predictive maintenance tools allow us to test and repair equipment based on data, rather than waiting for failure. This ensures technicians’ schedules are predictable and helps keep them out of potentially dangerous conditions.
At our recycling facilities, contaminants, such as “tanglers” that must be manually cut out of processing equipment and lithium batteries that can ignite when their casing is compromised, pose serious threats to the safety of processing recyclables. WM has made significant investments in fire detection and suppression systems to help prevent the risk of fires in our facilities. These systems identify heat, smoke, and flames, notify site personnel and can remotely deploy fire suppression in a facility. Additionally, deluge systems have been added to key areas of the manufacturing process to limit safety risk in the event of a fire. An important component of increasing facility safety is continuing to educate the public on the hazards created by contamination. We are working with industry stakeholders and community groups to emphasize the need to recycle right.
In addition to ensuring the safety of our employees and communities WM constantly works to ensure that our contractors are operating safely.
For contractors who work at our collection, post collection, and MRF facilities, we partner with all staffing agencies to ensure that all workers have received a safety orientation before they begin work. Once at a WM facility, workers are provided with orientation to any potential site-specific risks by local management. Incident rates are tracked for all workers to ensure any risks are identified and addressed.
For contractors who work on improvement projects at WM post collection, renewable energy, and closed locations all vendors must register in the WM Contractor Safety Orientation(CSO) portal. This portal allows for the certification of a vendor and allows for certification and tracking of that vendor’s employees. Before a contractor can begin work at a WM post collection, renewable energy, or closed location they must complete their CSO orientation.
Improving Safety for Solo Workers
At certain closed landfills, renewable energy plants, maintenance shops and recycling drop-off facilities, staffing may be limited to a single person. We monitor the safety of these “lone workers” using a technology known as Blackline. Blackline supplies mobile monitoring devices that send an alert signal when certain conditions are sensed, such as a gas leak, a fall or an impact, or when manually activated by the employee. The signal is then transmitted to a monitoring service, staffed 24/7, which notifies local emergency response personnel and WM facility managers.