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Fla. Study: Garbage Jobs Hazardous

February 27, 1999

MIAMI (AP) _ James Stephens says collecting garbage for a living stinks _ literally. But researchers say the stench is nothing compared to hazards that make the job the deadliest in the state.

``It’s always a dirty job. We have gotten people hit by cars and bit by dogs,″ said Stephens, 62, a garbage collector in Miami for 28 years who’s suffered bumps and bruises but no serious injuries.

He’s been lucky.

A new study by University of Miami researchers found the rate of on-the-job deaths in Florida at 90 per 100,000 garbage collectors.

That’s almost twice the national average _ 49 deaths per 100,000 _ and more dangerous than piloting a plane and cutting timber, two of the most hazardous jobs in the nation.

The researchers, funded by the Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management, spent a year watching Florida sanitation workers haul heavy bags and dodge cars. They analyzed five years of injury reports full of cuts, knee sprains, bruises and back spasms.

The study found the rate of injuries to be five to seven times higher than the average for other types of workers. That’s 52 injuries per 100 municipal solid-waste workers a year.

Lead researcher James Englehardt could not say why Florida’s rate was so much higher than the national average.

``What we observed is back-breaking work,″ he said. ``It’s extremely heavy labor with a potential for serious injuries.″

About two-thirds of the garbage collectors who died nationwide perished in accidents involving automobiles and other vehicles. The UM study found that between 1993 and 1997, five of the 11 workers who died in Florida were killed in vehicle-related accidents.

``Some have slipped off the back of the truck and the truck ran over them,″ said Willie Seabrooks, president of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees for Miami-Dade County. ``Another guy ran away from a dog and jumped in the back of the truck and he got crushed.″

Cars can be deadly, though injuries more commonly are due to bags filled with broken glass, poison ivy and even live animals.