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Putting People First Safety

Safety is Waste Management’s top priority and one of our core values. A large number of our employee population work as drivers, heavy equipment operators and sorters—essential jobs that carry inherent risks.

For nearly 20 years, we have engaged employees on safety through the Mission to Zero (M2Z) program. The “Zero” in M2Z represents zero tolerance for unsafe behaviors. By engaging employees around prevention rather than simply tracking outcomes, we strive to address hazards before they can endanger employees.

Employees learn safety best practices through new-hire and ongoing training. To build upon lessons learned in training, we conduct structured observations of frontline employees that cover all aspects of our collection and post-collection operations, including driving, loading, unloading, lifting and lowering and arriving prepared for work. At disposal operations, significant accidents are subject to root-cause briefings, with standard rules updated to eliminate recurrence. We track monthly safety performance by market, service function and even equipment type. At present, Waste Management is working to deploy an upgraded incident management system that will provide better visibility and analysis of intervention methods.

The Waste Management Safety Services team leads regular performance reviews for our fleet operations, focusing on leading indicators and any areas needing attention. A Monthly Safety Call webcast offers a suite of key metrics, opportunities for discussion of industry issues and conversations with special guests, including senior leadership. Performance reviews and routine reports drive accountability and recognition.

As an industry safety leader, Waste Management is committed to continuous improvement, at our sites and in the communities where we work. We engage other transportation and service sector leaders to share best practices and participate in dialogue related to training, recruiting, retention, technology and more.

As a result of our continued commitment to programs that improve roadway safety, and a focus on reducing the frequency and severity of employee injuries, 2019 was a successful year in terms of Waste Management’s safety performance. We use four primary metrics to track our progress:

Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR)

TRIR is used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to track and report work-related injuries and illnesses. 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, Waste Management has consistently outperformed our industry on TRIR since 2005. Waste Management continues to take active steps to further prevent injuries through our injury and illness management program, hazardous energy control program and other initiatives timed with seasonal risks, including heat illnesses in the summer and slips, trips and falls in the fall and winter.

Waste Management vs. BLS Industry Average TRIR

Line chart showing Waste Management's total recordable incident rate (TRIR) vs. BLS Industry Average from 2000 through 2019

Days Away/Restricted or Transfer (DART)

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. Waste Management has outperformed our industry since 2005, including days away from work due to injury, and this metric has continued to decrease. In addition to the programs and awareness campaigns undertaken to prevent all injuries and illnesses, Waste Management 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.

Waste Management vs. BLS Industry Average DART

Line chart showing Waste Management's days away/restricted or transfer (DART) vs. BLS Industry Average from 2003 through 2019

Vehicle Incident Frequency: 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. 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 both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-property accidents). Of these two metrics, we believe HARR is most useful because it encourages completing a root cause investigation on all incidents involving a Waste Management 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.

WM Vehicle Accident Recordable Rate (VARR)

Line chart showing Waste Management's Vehicle Accident Recordable Rate (VARR) from 2005 through 2019

Hourly Accident Recordable Rate (HARR)

Line chart showing Waste Management's Hourly Accident Recordable Rate (HARR) from 2002 through 2019

*Beginning in 2016, Waste Management 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.

As a company whose drivers must travel daily to serve customers, Waste Management maintains road safety as a particular area of focus, and we have a range of programs in place to address risks unique to transportation. An increase in automation helps to mitigate some of these risks. For example, 66% of our residential routes rely on automated or semiautomated equipment, which reduces the number of times our employees must exit the truck while collecting trash and recyclables; in turn, reducing accidents. Automated equipment also limits the need for employees to bend and lift heavy bins, which decreases the risk of sprains and strains. Beyond the safety benefits, these enhancements lead to greater driver satisfaction and retention. We continue to transition from manual to automated collection as contracts come up for renewal.

We’ve also installed video event recorders on all trucks, which provide visibility into drivers’ performance. This allows us to both reward drivers for safe behaviors and coach drivers for improvement. Since installing cameras in 2014, we have improved safe driving behavior by 56% and significantly reduced auto accident claims.

Robust training is especially important for drivers who operate our collection trucks. To ensure new drivers are successful in their job roles, we have established a three-phase approach. In the first phase, a newly hired driver goes through on-site orientation with management, human resources, market area driver trainers and safety specialists. This allows Waste Management to lay the foundation for drivers to get to know their teams, company policies, procedures and benefits, roles and responsibilities, and safety expectations.

Promoting SAFETY Behind the Wheel

The Waste Management 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.

The second phase teaches drivers how to perform the job, with a focus on safety rules, procedures and driving practices. Centralized training for drivers and technicians takes place at training centers in Fort Myers, Florida, and Glendale, Arizona. The new Arizona Training Center, which opened in 2019, includes a 30,000-square-foot maintenance shop, a 10-acre driver training course, classrooms, computer labs and technician workstations to simulate typical experiences at Waste Management facilities.

Newly hired drivers and technicians from across the country travel to these centers for two-week, immersive onboarding programs designed to enhance their capabilities and ensure they are the most engaged, customer-centric and safe employees in the industry. Drivers learn safety rules, procedures, vehicle inspections, safe lifting and Department of Transportation-required curricula that provide scenarios reflective of day-to-day operations. Technicians learn the basics of hydraulics, electrical, preventive maintenance practices and safety procedures.

At the end of the course, drivers and technicians receive a comprehensive performance evaluation, then return to their respective sites for additional on-the-job training. In 2019, 2,553 drivers and 412 fleet technicians completed training at the two training centers. At full capacity, the Arizona Training Center can develop 2,500 drivers and 750 technicians per year.

The third phase of new driver training is a 90-day, three-level, on-the-job training (OJT) program that applies everything the employee has learned about how to safely operate and maneuver our trucks. The OJT program includes a variety of observations, conducted by the driver’s direct manager and a designated site trainer, that range from demonstrating their familiarization of servicing procedures of our trucks to applying the principles of Waste Management’s SAFETY Defensive Driving System, an advanced training program that teaches the critical skills of safe driving (see sidebar above). Since the introduction of OJT, one-year retention of new drivers has increased from 37.5% in 2017 to 76.2% in 2019.

As we continue to expand our capacity to train new hires, we are able to see reduction not only in accidents and injuries, but also in driver and fleet technician turnover. This unique onboarding program positively positions Waste Management relative to other employers recruiting for these critical roles. In addition, early immersion into our company’s culture and values translates to better performance and a longer career with Waste Management.

Improved road safety policies can also help keep drivers safe. Collection drivers must constantly be on the lookout for other drivers on the road, particularly those in a hurry to pass collectors during stops, which is when accidents often occur. Waste Management supports “Slow Down to Get Around” legislation, which requires drivers of other vehicles to slow down when passing collection trucks. The National Waste and Recycling Association is leading the effort to pass this law nationwide; 23 states have done so to date.

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 contribute to enhanced safety for employees within our post-collection facilities. We are increasing safety in recycling facilities through additional operating protocols and efforts to reduce inbound contamination from recycling bins. 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 consequences for 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.

Workers in our facilities receive extensive training that covers full compliance with safety standards and policies, use of required protective equipment, preventive maintenance and good practice guidance. In addition to onboarding programs, we require ongoing training related to injury and illness prevention, hazardous energy control and seasonal risks. The Injury and Illness Prevention program uses a data-based approach that examines equipment, processes, policies and other potential causes of injury and illness; evaluates possible interventions; and assesses the success of these interventions on prevention.

All subcontractors undergo safety orientation that includes modules on basic safety, landfill safety, landfill gas, electrical safety and renewable energy. Currently, 250 Waste Management landfills and 13 renewable energy facilities participate in this training, with 1,336 contractor companies and 10,000 contractor employees registered. We also offer contractors a toll-free helpline they can use to share questions or concerns.

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” in a number of ways. Some workers manually call in to a third-party monitoring service at an agreed-upon frequency, such as every 30 minutes. Others wear a small device that sends an alert signal when certain conditions are sensed, such as a fall or an impact, or when manually activated by the employee. The signal is then transmitted to a third-party monitoring service, staffed 24/7, which notifies local emergency response personnel and emergency contacts.

Taking Care of Each Other During
Times of Uncertainty

COVID-19 touched every aspect of our business, from our customers and communities to employees and operating procedures. As an essential service, Waste Management continued to operate as much of the country paused, taking on the logistical challenge of adapting our operations to a new working environment. With many businesses closed, we re-routed our commercial collection trucks to residential routes where waste and recyclables increased up to 25%. With thousands of collection routes in North America, this was no small task.

We never took our attention off our primary focus of people and safety as we adjusted to changes in our services and market conditions. For example, we:

  • Continued to provide glasses, masks and gloves as necessary for frontline employees.
  • Created configurations and procedures to promote social distancing, including plexiglass shield separators.
  • Developed policies regarding team meetings, breaks and public spaces to ensure social distancing.
  • Instituted regular and enhanced cleaning procedures at all facilities.
  • Guaranteed 40 hours pay to all full-time employees, regardless of COVID-related service decreases, and company-subsidized care for children and elderly parents.
  • Moved 19,000 employees to work-from-home conditions, upgrading software company-wide to handle additional online traffic.

of guaranteed pay to all
full-time employees

moved to work
from home

donated to those
experiencing food insecurity

Knowing they were safe and taken care of, our employees were inspired to help others during the crisis. We launched the Million Meals Campaign, a two-week employee match program that raised funds for Feeding America and Food Banks Canada. Through our combined efforts, Waste Management provided 1.9 million meals to those experiencing food insecurity due to the pandemic. In addition, facilities across the country pitched in to help neighbors and local organizations:

  • Sites in the Greater Mid-Atlantic region donated money and supplied fruit, vegetables and other essentials to a Delaware food bank supporting more than 7,000 community members.
  • The Varick Transfer station in New York City, participated in a food distribution program, helping to unload produce that is delivered to local families on a weekly basis. The facility was recognized as a Queens Chamber of Commerce Business of the Week for its efforts.
  • An account manager for Delaware Valley South and his family expanded the Little Free Library in front of their house to include a community food pantry, inviting community members to take what they needed and contribute what they could.
  • When students at Reed College and Lewis & Clark College in the Pacific Northwest had to leave campus on short notice, Waste Management teams provided drop boxes and front-load containers to collect recyclables and trash. This helped move-outs proceed more smoothly, reducing the burden on students and school administrators.

Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR)
Waste Management vs. BLS Industry Average TRIR

Waste Management:


Waste Management vs. BLS Industry Average DART

Waste Management:


WM Vehicle Accident Recordable Rate (VARR)

*Beginning in 2016, Waste Management 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.

Hourly Accident Recordable Rate (HARR)

*Beginning in 2016, Waste Management 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.