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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. By engaging employees around prevention rather than simply tracking outcomes, we strive to address hazards before they endanger employees.
To understand vehicle incident performance across operations of varying sizes, we use VARR, which tracks vehicle-on-vehicle accidents; and HARR, which tracks vehicle accidents including vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-property accidents.
Over almost two decades, our rate of injuries per employee hours worked has continued to fall. According to published U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, WM has consistently outperformed our industry on TRIR since 2005. WM continues to take active steps to further prevent injuries through our injury and illness management program, hazardous energy control program and other initiatives tied to seasonal risks, including heat illnesses in the summer and slips, trips and falls in the fall and winter.
1 TRIR and HARR data are for the U.S. and Canada only.
OSHA uses DART rates to track and report work-related injuries and illnesses that result in lost time, restricted duty or transfer to another work function. WM has outperformed our industry since 2005, including days away from work due to injury, and this metric has continued to improve. In addition to the programs and awareness campaigns introduced to prevent all injuries and illnesses, WM has taken a structured approach to reducing the severity of incidents through safety processes that limit risk. We also work to provide prompt and complete medical care for employees who have suffered a work-related injury or illness to support their return to full duty as quickly as possible.
Vehicle Accident Recordable Rate (VARR) and
Hourly Accident Recordable Rate (HARR)
There are no standard metrics for measuring vehicle incident frequency in the waste industry. Of these two metrics, we believe HARR is most useful because it encourages the completion of a root cause investigation on all incidents involving a WM vehicle. This focus on behaviors rather than on outcome of vehicle accidents helps lead to interventions that prevent future accidents. The long-term trend in the number of hours between incidents (both VARR and HARR) has increased, indicating continuous improvement in our incident performance.
2 Beginning in 2016, WM decided this metric would be more informative if we exclude specific incidents where Other Vehicles Initiated Impact (OVII). This action resulted in in a significant improvement in both VARR and HARR from that year onward. As we further refine our vehicle incident tracking, we will continue to evaluate potential methods for contributing to an industry-wide vehicle incident tracking metric.
Striving for a Safer Tomorrow
A well-trained workforce is a safer workforce. It is also one that works more consistently, which allows us to limit costs and serve our customers as effectively as possible. These three objectives—safety, service and savings—are the heart of the WM Way program, a new set of standards followed by Collection, Dispatch and Fleet Operations to help teams carry out complex and routine tasks. It includes standardized daily processes to ensure vehicle inspections are performed correctly and drivers routed properly, daily employee and leadership huddles and 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 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.
WM has a zero-tolerance policy regarding the most serious risks employees face. These “life critical rules” include ongoing training on the proper procedures regarding hazardous energy control, using safety devices correctly and always maintaining a safe distance from people, vehicles and hazardous energy sources. WM has a responsibility to create and maintain the safest possible work environment for all employees, which is one way we put People First.
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. The purpose of the assessment was to better understand the current state of our safety programs, with the goal of creating improved strategies to implement in 2021 and 2022. We also engage other transportation and service sector leaders who share best practices and participate in dialogue related to training, recruiting, retention, technology and more.
Safety on the Road
As a company whose drivers must travel daily to serve customers, WM has a range of programs to address risks unique to road safety and transportation. An increase in automation helps to mitigate some of these risks. For example, over half (66%) 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 the potential for employee incidents. Automated equipment also limits the need for employees to bend and lift heavy bins, which decreases the risk of sprains and strains. Other forms of automation are advanced driver assistance systems, which include collision mitigation, active braking technology that takes over control of our trucks to prevent potential collision when a driver does not react quickly enough and vehicle telematics that communicate any needed repairs to our shops. Beyond the safety benefits, these enhancements lead to greater driver satisfaction and retention.
The WM SAFETY Defensive Driving System provides safe driving instruction that is specific to waste-collection vehicles. The system is refreshed monthly with videos 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 among all drivers and managers.
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.
Protecting MRF Employees
We are increasing safety in recycling facilities through improved processing equipment, additional operating protocols and efforts to reduce inbound contamination from recycling bins. For example, new safety interlocks create safeguards that prevent workers from encountering unsafe situations and shut off systems automatically when doors are opened or when guards are removed for equipment maintenance. 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. An important component of increasing facility safety is educating the public on the hazards created by contamination. We are working with industry stakeholders and community groups to emphasize the need to recycle right.
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 new 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’s security operations center.