What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

I have been asked why the town wants to change the way residential garbage is collected.  The old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” has been invoked.  My response is that the way we collect trash is broken and out of date.

OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] reports that 46,000 janitors, custodians and sanitation workers are injured each year. The vast majority are back injuries, and about 60% result from lifting garbage cans.  These workers have 16th highest rate of occupational hazards.  The average cost for these injuries, including medical treatment and lost time on the job is over $60,000 per case.

I’ve had several people tell me I shouldn’t discuss this problem because our workers will start filling claims.  It would be morally wrong to not address this health and safety issue for our sanitation workers, just as if we ignored the potential health issues of firefighters exposed to toxic chemicals. As a community we have to take action and implement best practices.  Also, our workers are already at times injured on the job. Those injuries cost the town money in medical treatment and the loss of productivity and work time.

Specifically, the procedure we have in place where our sanitation workers lift 35 gallon, or larger, trash cans when doing residential pickup is exactly what concerns OSHA.  One worker may lift hundreds of trash cans on any day.  We have about 2,000 residential customers that get two pickups a week. This repetitive lifting adds up to a heavy burdens for our workers.

Our garbage trucks are equipped with lift bar devices. They are used for lifting the 95 gallon toters deployed in commercial districts.  The next step is to move toward using toters in residential areas.  The wheel toters and lift bar devices will make it much easier for our workers to deposit the trash in the trucks. Almost all toters are designed to work with the universal lift bar system. The use of toters is a standard operating procedure in sanitation departments across the country.

If we convert to toters that are bear resistant, another important issue of better managing wildlife will also be addressed. These bear resistant toters are more costly than standard toters, but they are also built stronger to withstand the assault by a hungry bear. I have looked at bear resistant toters on the internet.  Most vendors sell 64 and 95 gallon toters.  Prices range from $200 to $300 plus.  Some folks may say they are too expensive. My response is that handling and disposing of trash on the plateau is not a cheap operation as some have assumed.

The public works committee will be researching and reviewing how to address both of these issues. Questions of how, and when we implement these new residential practices will have to be answered.  The cost and how and who will pay for the conversion will also need to be determined.  There are a number of options to be decided, but to do nothing is not an option.

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