This business puts safety first for people on bikes

October 16, 2017

Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer


Bikes are prominently displayed at 82 Midwest offices of Waste Management, serving as a daily reminder to company drivers about safety on the road. (Photo courtesy of Waste Management)

If you’ve ever noticed a Waste Management truck driver cautiously navigating around people biking or walking, that’s by design, a product of careful training. The company operates 26,000 collection and transfer vehicles, serving 27 million customers in the U.S. and Canada. They take safety seriously. “It’s always been part of our coaching, and we intensified our focus on sharing the road with bikes three years ago,” says Lynn Morgan, Manager of Public Affairs.

Waste Management’s anchor bicycle and pedestrian safety program is ‘One Hundred Days of Summer Safety.’ From late spring through late September the entire U.S. operation places a special emphasis on pedestrians and bike riders. “That doesn’t mean we don’t focus during the rest of the year, but obviously people are out riding bikes more in the summer,” says Ted Leamen, Area Safety Manager for Waste Management’s Wisconsin/Minnesota/Dakotas region.

“One of the components of this is not just driving safely but how to ride safely. So our education for our employees includes a reminder of how to be a safe bike rider,” Morgan says. Last year, Waste Management bike safety education included a video that used a drone to show typical blind spots of drivers and bike riders. “The approach we use is that we have to safely share the road. Waste Management has responsibility, and bicyclists have responsibility. So the video also focused on shared responsibility,” Leamen says.


(Photo courtesy of Waste Management)

Waste Management also uses drive cams in all truck cabs to emphasize safe driving—something Leamen says no other firm in the industry uses so extensively. The video is reviewed, “so we can coach our drivers when we see behavior that is not meeting expectations,” Leamen says.

A couple of years ago, Leamen came up with the idea of getting a bike for each of his region’s sites. “What better way to remind the driver of keeping an eye out for a bike than to see one every day on their morning launch?” he says.

The bikes are prominently displayed at each of the 82 sites in Leamen’s region, which includes collection hubs, haul locations, landfills, recycling plants and administrative offices. Collection hubs, where trucks are dispatched, are where the physical presence of the bike is perhaps most important: collection hub staff have a daily morning huddle that highlights important information for the days’ work, and the bike gives managers a visual cue to remind drivers to look out for riders. Leamen purchases new Trek bikes each year, from Emery’s, a Wisconsin bike shop. Employees at each location decide what to do with the bicycles at the end of each summer; some have been raffled off to staff while others have been donated to community organizations.

“You really have to engage people emotionally to help safety practices become second nature,” Morgan says. “So having something tangible when discussing bikes is one of the ways that Ted has helped to capture our drivers’ imaginations.”

Morgan says that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with managers reporting that the program has helped with drivers’ “recalling and coaching each other on safe driving skills.”

According to Morgan, the proactive approach has yielded Waste Management Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) numbers consistently below the industry average and increased its Vehicle Accident Recordable Rate (VARR)—the number of hours driven between incidents like a crash or hitting a sign post.

There’s ample evidence to suggest that safety is good business, saving firms money on worker’s comp, lost productivity and legal costs. But in our conversation, Morgan and Leamen did not mention the business benefits. Their message was simply that operating safely is just the right thing to do. “We are committed to this,” Leamen says. “When it comes to bicycles, we have to safely share the road and we are going to make sure we do it right on our end.”

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