What Does a Sanitation Worker Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Sanitation workers drive or ride in garbage truck each day collecting trash from residences and businesses. There are few government jobs people would notice more if the work went undone. Sanitation workers perform a valuable service to their communities by collecting garbage and removing it to proper disposal areas such as dumps or landfills.
Sanitation Worker Duties & Responsibilities
This job is physically demanding, and requires candidates to be able to perform duties that include the following:
- Lift heavy objects and work in all weather conditions. There is also a significant injury risk associated with the job. Not only do heavy lifting and inclement weather take their toll, but sanitation workers also run the risk of being hit by other vehicles.
- Drive garbage trucks and others ride along. Drivers need the appropriate commercial driving credentials for their states.
- Operate the truck mechanisms. Some cities have trucks that pick up garbage containers and drop the garbage directly into the truck. In other cities, sanitation workers must collect garbage containers or trash bags and manually deposit the garbage into the trucks.
- Perform some manual labor. Sometimes the equipment doesn’t work right, or there are items like brush piles or furniture the trucks can't lift.
- Take the garbage to an appropriate disposal facility like a dump or landfill at the end of the day. These facilities have their own staff and equipment to empty the trucks, but sometimes sanitation workers need to help.
- Maintain the truck. a garbage truck gets dirty in a hurry. Sanitation workers clean garbage trucks on a routine basis. They may perform routine maintenance on the truck such as checking tire pressure, topping off fluids and inspecting mechanical parts for unusual wear and tear.
Sanitation Worker Salary
A sanitation worker salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.
- Median Annual Salary: $37,260 ($17.92/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $66,020 ($31.74/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $22.290 ($10.71/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
Education, Training & Certification
The sanitation worker position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:
- Education: Postings for sanitation worker positions usually require applicants to have a high school degree or equivalent.
- Experience: If any experience is required, it is typically less than two years.
- Training: As long as an applicant is able-bodied, ethical and willing to work, the city can teach a new hire all he or she needs to know to be successful in the position.
Sanitation Worker Skills & Competencies
In addition to the basic job requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:
- Handle heavy weight: Capable of lifting up to 100 pounds
- Physical dexterity: Can easily repeat the same moves over and over with no problem
- Endure tough working conditions: Ability to be on your feet for long hours and work in confined spaces
- Team player: Works well with others
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for sanitation workers between 2016 and 2026 is 13%, driven by a growing population and higher amounts of refuse. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.
Sanitation workers are predominantly employed in city or county government. The position typically falls within the public works department which has a sanitation department within it.
Counties generally contract with private waste disposal companies if they provide garbage collection services to county residents. Most government organizations employ staff or contract with private firms to perform custodial and maintenance duties, but those jobs are different than sanitation worker positions.
Sanitation worker jobs tend to be full-time positions and take place outside, during daylight hours.
How to Get the Job
Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Since these jobs are fairly stable and carry the same pension and benefits as other local government jobs, the wait list to be a sanitation worker may be long.
Sanitation workers are selected through the standard government hiring process, sometimes requiring a civil service exam. They are often selected by the sanitation supervisors who manage them. Before being hired, applicants may have to demonstrate they can meet the physical demands of the job.
You can network your way to a new job by attending events organized by various retail industry trade organizations. For example, check the National Waste & Recycling Association's website for events and resources.
Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the websites of local city governments to apply to open job positions or check online sites such as USAJOBS.gov. Play up any useful experience that can help set you apart, such as speaking different languages.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in a sanitation worker career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:
- Sanitation Equipment Operator I: $35,650
- Sanitation Engineer: $35,375