Houston County sanitation

Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver reads the inscription of an award for the county's sanitation program, which has operated four consecutive years without a lost-time accident.

Sanitation workers face the fifth-most dangerous occupation each day, but Houston County’s sanitation department has avoided a reportable medical case for more than four years.

The Houston County Commission recognized its sanitation department during a Monday meeting, and county safety director Kelly Crowell said sanitation workers register more workers’ compensation claims per year than law enforcement officers. She added the decision to switch to automated trucks has played a vital role in the county’s new safety record.

“Taking the guys off the back (of the truck) was a big reason for this,” said chief county engineer Barkley Kirkland, who oversees the sanitation department. “They were up and down 500 times a day per truck. Today they face people running into them, people texting, people pulling out in front of them.”

Reportable medical cases involve anything that requires trips to the doctor, and no sanitation worker has experienced a lost-time accident during the four-year period, Kirkland noted.

The reduced number of accidents has benefited the county significantly in the past several years. In 2017 the county received $37,000 reimbursement in insurance premiums thanks to a significant drop in claims.

From the 2010 fiscal year to the 2016 fiscal year, the county’s workers’ compensation claims dropped from 63 to 14 due in part to a vast improvement in the sanitation department’s safety record. Those improvements have continued overall as the county’s insurance premiums dropped about $469,000 between the 2011 and 2019 fiscal years.

With the county’s population growing, the chances of an accident have risen, but sanitation workers have taken pride in the new benchmark they are setting, Kirkland said.

“They’re a good bunch of guys,” he said.

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