What Does a Sanitation Worker Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a male sanitation worker pulling a garbage can in front of a garbage truck. Other images show an isolated pair of arms lifting half of a couch, and a pair of arms driving a steering wheel. Text reads:

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019

Sanitation workers drive or ride in garbage trucks 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 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.
  • Drive garbage trucks while others ride along.
  • Operate the truck mechanisms for lifting, dumping, and setting the trash cans or dumpsters down.
  • Perform some manual labor for items such as brush piles or furniture that trucks can't lift.

The key responsibilities of this job include taking the garbage to an appropriate disposal facility such as a dump or landfill at the end of the day. These facilities have the staff and equipment to empty the trucks, but sometimes sanitation workers need to help.

Workers also maintain the truck. Since 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 check the tire pressure, top off fluids, and inspect 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)

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 diploma 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 they need 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 weights: 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 their feet for long hours and work in confined spaces.
  • Team player: Works well with others.

Job Outlook

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.

Work Environment

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.

Work Schedule

Sanitation worker jobs tend to be full-time positions and take place outside, during daylight hours.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

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 waitlist 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.

NETWORK
Network your way to a new job by attending events organized by various waste industry trade organizations. For example, check the National Waste & Recycling Association website for events and resources.

APPLY
Look at job search resources such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. Visit the websites of local city governments to apply to open job positions or check online sites such as USAJOBS.gov. Play up any experience that sets 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 the median annual salaries:

  • Sanitation Equipment Operator I: $35,650
  • Sanitation Engineer: $35,375

Source: Payscale.com, 2019