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Worker Fatalities
  • A worker was crushed when attempting to remove a jammed piece of metal from the hydraulic door of a scrap metal shredder

Metal scrap recycling, also called secondary metal processing, is a large industry that processes, in the U.S. alone, 56 million tons of scrap iron and steel (including 10 million tons of scrap automobiles), 1.5 million tons of scrap copper, 2.5 million tons of scrap aluminum, 1.3 million tons of scrap lead, 300,000 tons of scrap zinc and 800,000 tons of scrap stainless steel, and smaller quantities of other metals, on a yearly basis.

Scrap metals, in general, are divided into two basic categories: ferrous and nonferrous. Ferrous scrap is metal that contains iron, while nonferrous metals are metals that do not contain iron.

Many workers are employed by scrap metal recycling industries. Private, nonferrous recycling industries in the U.S. employed approximately 16,000 employees in 2001. (Figures were not available for ferrous recycling industries.) In 2001, those nonferrous recycling industries reported approximately 3,000 injuries and illnesses. The most common causes of illness were poisoning (e.g., lead or cadmium poisoning), disorders associated with repeated trauma, skin diseases or disorders, and respiratory conditions due to inhalation of, or other contact with, toxic agents. Of those injuries and illnesses, 701 cases involved days away from work. The most common events or exposures leading to these cases were contact with an object or piece of equipment; overextension; and exposure to a harmful substance. The most common types of these injuries were sprains and strains; heat burns; and cuts, lacerations, and punctures. (BLS, 2003).

OSHA has published Guidance for the Identification and Control of Safety and Health Hazards in Metal Scrap Recycling [438 KB PDF*, 48 pages], which is the best resource currently available from OSHA.

Hazards and Precautions


Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

*These files are provided for downloading.