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Originally published July 26, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Page modified July 27, 2012 at 8:39 AM

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Truth Needle: Teamsters ad correct on recycling-worker fatalities

Truth Needle: Teamsters Local 117 says in a newspaper advertisement that four Puget Sound recycling workers have been killed on the job since 2005. That is true.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: Teamsters Local 117, which represents 153 drivers for Waste Management's recycling service, went on strike Wednesday over wage and benefits issues. In a newspaper advertisement to build public support for the striking drivers, the Teamsters described sanitation work as one of the more dangerous jobs in the country. The ad said: "Since 2005, four Puget Sound recycle workers have been killed on the job."

What we found: True.

Working in solid waste is not only dirty, it can be dangerous.

Nationally, an average of 85 recycling workers die each year from fatal injuries sustained on the job, according to a workplace-safety study that covered the years 2003 through 2009.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that recycle workers represent about 25 percent of all workers in the solid-waste industry, but they account for 36 percent of the 599 fatalities reported by the industry during those years.

Comparable figures were not available for Washington state. But a search of news clips and a federal database of workplace injuries and deaths confirmed that at least five recycling workers in the Puget Sound region have died from accidents on the job since 2005.

However, it's worth noting that three of the five fatalities did not involve truck drivers, but rather, people working in recycling facilities.

The most recent was April 2011, when a 25-year-old woman was killed after recycling materials fell on top of her while she was clearing jammed plastics from a bailing machine at Smurfit-Stone Recycling and Waste Solutions in Renton.

In addition:

• A 32-year-old worker for Lakewood Refuse Service died in May 2009 after the recycling truck she was driving was struck head-on by an SUV in East Pierce County.

• A Rabanco Recycling employee in Seattle was run over by a front-end loader in May 2005 as he was walking, counting bales of refuse.

• A 39-year-old man who worked for Waste Management for 18 years was killed in a forklift accident in Burlington, Skagit County, in December 2010. News reports said the accident occurred in an area where recyclable materials were loaded and unloaded.

• In July 2007, a 29-year-old recycling truck driver for Allied Waste was killed in Edmonds after his truck rolled over him, according to news reports.

Paul Zilly, spokesman for Local 117, also cited an October 2006 accident in Seattle. But no news reports or state Labor and Industries records could be found that corresponded to that time period or location. Zilly said he did not have additional information to confirm the death.

While it's true that the reported fatalities included drivers and people working in facilities, federal workplace data and news reports support the general claim in the advertisement, so we find the statement to be true.

Seattle Times staff researchers David Turim and Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @susankelleher.

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