LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — It's been two years since Peggy Roark's daughter, Whitney Gardner, died after falling off the back of a sanitation truck in Lexington.
"I'm still grieving," Roark said. "I'm still hurting as if it was yesterday."
Since that terrible day, Roark has been on a mission to spread awareness about worker safety and advocate for change.
"It's been hard, but I keep pushing and pushing and hoping for change," she said.
She doesn't want what happened to her daughter to happen to anyone else, so she's been searching for solutions.
For example, she wants Lexington to look into having as many automated trucks as possible. That way, fewer workers overall have to ride on the back of trucks.
"I know it's going to be more expensive, but can we put a price tag on a human life?" she questioned.
LEX18 called the City of Lexington and Commissioner of Environmental Quality and Public Works, Nancy Albright, said they actually have 11 automated trucks on order.
She confirmed they do cost more than the traditional rear-loading truck. She said an automated side-loading truck costs $370,000 and a rear-loading truck costs $325,000.
Albright said while they're moving in the right direction, there's still room for improvement.
But she also noted that the City can't shift to automated trucks only. That's because they need a lot of clearance, which some congested city streets do not allow.
Therefore, she said rear-loading trucks are needed in those areas.
For those trucks, Roark is looking into whether requiring harnesses for workers would increase safety.
Meanwhile, the executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America, David Biderman, said training is paramount in the safety puzzle.
"Good training and high-quality safety communication is a key tool to reducing the frequency of accidents and incidents," Biderman said.
Albright said the City has monthly mandatory safety meetings. Labor Works, the contractor Gardner worked for when she fell off a city truck, said it has "implemented new training strategies" since her death.
Biderman also noted that overall the number of solid water worker fatalities has decreased over the past few years. In 2018, SWANA reported 59 solid waste worker deaths and in 2021 that number went down to 28.
Even so, Roark said there's still a lot of progress to be made until no worker is harmed or killed on the job. She is working with Kentucky Representative Matt Lockett to see if legislation would help.
"Since my daughter's not here, I'm her voice," she said. "We gotta make change."