Amid roll cart debate, injuries continue for sanitation workers

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COLUMBIA - For the past several months, the city of Columbia has been discussing with residents a possible switch to a roll cart trash collection system. One aspect of the debate between the city and its residents is the continued safety of sanitation workers.

"On the residential collection crew, we get a lot of turned ankles, twisted knees, back strains, shoulder, elbow, different muscular groups because of the repetition of the heavy lifting requirements," Columbia Solid Waste Utility Manager Cynthia Mitchell said.

Opponents of the proposal say roll carts would be tougher to move than trash bags, could blow over and could also cost residents and the city more money. Currently, residents pay between $14.42 and $15.42 per month for curbside trash pick-up. 

If the roll cart system passes, residents would place their trash bags in roll carts. The roll carts come in different sizes, allowing residents and businesses to choose a cart that best fits their respective trash output. A trash truck would pull up to the side of the cart, pick up the bin and dump the trash in the truck.

"The average household puts out an average of two bags of trash a day," Mitchell said. "The average household count on a residential route is 900. So, you're talking 1,800 bags or more for some workers."

Mitchell said that a switch to roll carts would yield more benefits to workers than the current system.

"It would eliminate the lifting of materials. I think we would experience fewer turnovers. It would give the employees better job satisfaction," Mitchell said. "That's important to us, we can't run the trucks if we have no people."

Currently, residents place their bags of trash on the curb. Sanitation workers jump off the truck, grab the bags and then toss them in the back of the truck. Mitchell said the sheer number of trash bags picked up daily by sanitation workers has an adverse effect on their bodies. 

Columbia Sanitation Worker Jamel Joyner, who has been working trash collection for five years, has been injured on the job several times.


"It was winter time and we were going down a cul-de-sac and the truck slipped at the bottom on a patch of ice. I fell of the truck and grabbed myself. I was holding myself up and I turned around and hit my neck on the bottom of the step," Joyner said.

Following his injury, Joyner was off the job for months. The injury is just one of five Joyner has had to recover from while working. All of his expenses and physical therapy was been paid for by the city through his workman's compensation.

Joyner said his job has not gotten any easier.

"We pick up easily over 20 tons per truck," Joyner said. "The endurance and the wear and tear on the body adds up."

To combat sanitation worker injuries, Mitchell said the city instituted a training program last year.

"They are trained on proper lifting techniques with videos and instruction from the supervisors," Mitchell said. "There are two days where they go on a route with a supervisor who shows them correct techniques."

Joyner said he's not made up his mind on the roll cart issue.

"I am in the middle," Joyner said. "I would like to see either the roll carts, if they do it the right way, or a bag limit."

The city just completed a three-month tour of discussing the issue with each ward. No further public debate is currently scheduled.