One of the most dangerous jobs in America
Friday is the funeral of 43-year-old New York City sanitation worker Steven Frosch, who was killed last week after he was struck by a street sweeper at a garage in Maspeth, Queens. Although it was the Sanitation Department's first line-of-duty fatality since 2011, it was a tragic a reminder that removing the city's trash is among the most dangerous jobs around.
According to the Daily News, Frosch, a 15-year DSNY veteran, left the NYPD in 1999 after five years as a policeman for what he thought would be a safer job.
It is a common misconception that sanitation work is less risky than being a cop or a fireman, according to NYU anthropologist Robin Nagle, who documented her experience toiling alongside underappreciated “san men” in a 2013 book, “Picking Up.”
“Sanitation work is not as dramatic as working for the police or fire departments,” she says. “But these guys are working all day around hulking pieces of heavy machinery. There's not a lot of room for error.”
In 2001, then-candidate Michael Bloomberg caught heat for saying something similar: “I bet you could find statistics that say being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or a fireman,” Bloomberg told an audience at Tavern on the Green.
Although he was blasted at the time by representatives of the PBA and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Bloomberg was exactly right.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, “refuse and recyclable material collectors” consistently have one of the highest rates of on-the-job fatalities. Only loggers, fishermen, aircraft pilots, roofers and steel workers were at greater risk of dying on the job in 2012.
Frosch is the 17th sanitation worker to die in the line of duty since 2000. Sixteen-year veteran Thomas Lermand, 48, was the previous; he collapsed behind the wheel of a DSNY truck while working his Brooklyn route in 2011. In 2010, 11-year DSNY veteran Frank Justich was struck and killed by a milk delivery truck on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria.
Excluding 9/11-related deaths, the 35,000-member NYPD had just 21 line of duty deaths since 2000. The FDNY, with almost twice as many uniformed employees as the 7,300-person strong DSNY, had 25 non-9/11-related deaths in that same period.
Fatalities are just one window on that danger. The Sanitation Department reported 1,457 work related injuries to its uniformed workers and supervisors in 2013.
Traffic is the biggest culprit. Sanitation workers are in and out of it all day. Rookie sanitation worker Danny Interlandi almost lost his left leg last year when he was struck by a drowsy driver in a rented truck on a Brooklyn street. In 2011, 27-year old sanitation worker Michael Russo spent three weeks in a coma after being hit by a car in Whitestone. The driver was trying to get around his truck.
It's not just the traffic, the heavy machinery, and the heavy lifting — it's the trash itself, which can be a toxic brew of hazardous materials. The trucks' massive compactor blades frequently cause bagged trash to burst, leaving workers vulnerable to flying metal objects and clouds of poisonous substances.
In 1996, 22-year veteran sanitation worker Michael Hanly died after inhaling hydrofluoric acid that exploded from a gallon-sized container being crushed in the hopper of his truck.
Improved truck design could make sanitation work safer. So could a law against passing stopped collection trucks, akin to those for school buses picking up or dropping off kids. While that's bound to be unpopular with city drivers, Mayor de Blasio should consider it anyway as part of his Vision Zero campaign to reduce traffic-related fatalities.
Steven Frosch leaves behind a wife and four young children. He also leaves behind a DSNY that proudly calls its workers the city's Strongest, and who may actually be its most vulnerable.
Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/sanitation-workers-harm-article-1.1845753