Long-Term Impacts and Short-Term Solutions - COVID-19

Operational and Safety Contingency Planning in the Midst of COVID-19 - Roundtable Discussion


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Blue Ridge Services – Safety Brief
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the Solid Waste Industry

Unless you have been living in a cave, you are probably inundated with a constant news flow of information about COVID-19 (also called coronavirus). As of March 20, 2020, there were more than 254,177 cases of coronavirus infections and 10,563 deaths related to the virus worldwide. In the United States, there are currently 14,271 cases and 206 deaths reported, although some experts are concerned that the numbers are much higher.

To keep up with the most recent statistics, visit https://ncov2019.live/data.

In other words, coronavirus is everywhere, and most certainly present in every stage of our waste management system.

While major events and conferences are being cancelled and workers are being sent home to work remotely, those who work in the solid waste industry can’t quit. Their roles are more vital than ever, and we need to move quickly to ensure that our waste workers are being protected whenever possible.

We can’t stop all waste operations. We can’t shut down collections routes. We can’t pause the waste management system. But we can take steps to minimize risks to waste worker and remain in alignment with national and local goals to minimize the spread of disease.

COVID-19 is a newer virus, so information about how it is spread and ways to minimize exposure is constantly evolving. This safety brief shouldn’t be considered a comprehensive guide, but rather a starting point. You should always follow federal, state, and local guidelines regarding best practices for managing the risk of COVID-19.

Sick Policies
Regardless of whether you run a landfill, transfer station or collections route, you should ensure that employees are not coming to work sick. And if they demonstrate symptoms of COVID-19, they should be sent home until they can be tested.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following symptoms are the most common, and most likely appear 2-14 days after exposure:
• Fever
• Cough
• Shortness of breath

For more on symptoms of COVID-19, please visit the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Overall Disinfecting
It is reported by the CDC that this virus can live on surfaces for up to three days, so regular disinfecting is vital to stopping the spread. If facilities haven’t already, they should make a list of all major touch points at your facility.

Things like doorknobs, light switches, toilets, faucet handles, coffee pot handles, etc. should be cleaned multiple times a day with disinfecting wipes or a disinfectant spray.

While coronavirus is not thought to be a bloodborne pathogen, many principles from bloodborne pathogen prevention training apply. “Universal precaution” is an approach to infection control in which all materials are treated as if they were known to be infectious. Waste workers and managers should take steps accordingly to clean hands, surface, and avoid touching their face, etc.

For more information on properly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, visit the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html

Collections workers are on the very front lines of the waste industry. They handle hundreds of bags and bins every shift and have the potential to be exposed not just once, but many times over. Collections workers should focus on practicing good hygiene, including regular hand washing, using hand sanitizer, using face wipes, and avoiding touching their face.

Hand sanitizer should be made available on all collections vehicles.

The CDC recommends maintaining a 6-foot distance between yourself and those who may be sick. Since people can be asymptomatic carriers – which means they could carry the disease but not show symptoms – it is good practice to minimize close contact with co-workers and customers.

For more information on how to protect yourself and your employees, visit the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html?

MRFs and Transfer Stations
At MRFs and transfer stations, in addition to person-to-person exposure, employees are also at risk from the trash being dumped and processed.

Employees should follow all hygiene protocols outlined under the Collections section. In addition, employees who work on a MRF pick line should wear gloves, wash their hands regularly, and avoid touching their faces with dirty gloves. Employees should avoid allowing materials or liquids to splash in their faces.

Hand sanitizer stations should be set up at key locations inside facilities to allow employees to regularly clean their hands in between hand washing.

In addition to following the safety protocols discussed in the Collections, MRFs and Transfer Stations sections, landfill heavy equipment operators should minimize the generation and their exposure to airborne dust and debris. Windows and doors on cabs should always be kept closed and cabin filtration systems should be checked and maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications. They should also disinfect all surfaces, controls and touch points in their equipment before and after each shift or operator change.

Gathering Places and Safety Training
Gathering places, like lunchrooms or break rooms, could potentially allow for close contact and increased risk of virus exposure. Employees should consider eating lunch in their personal vehicles (after thoroughly washing their hands) and avoid hanging out before or after shifts. On Monday, March 16, 2020, the White House released an official memo outlining many of the steps to take to minimize the spread of Coronavirus. One includes avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people.

To read the full memo, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.16.20_coronavirus-guidance_8.5x11_315PM.pdf

Safety training is more critical than ever, but the risks of cramming multiple people into a small break room are high. Consider other options for safety training. Waste facility managers could provide staff members with online training or move tailgate sessions outdoors to allow employees to have 6 feet of distance. Safety sessions requiring videos or PowerPoints could be moved into a larger space, such as the maintenance shop, to allow for more space between employees.