Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

Green Job Hazards

Recycling: Waste Management and Recycling

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that of the 250 million tons of waste generated in the U.S., approximately 1/3, or 83 million tons, was recycled or composted. Since 1985, the percentage of waste recycled in the U.S. has doubled, and the trend is likely to continue.1 As the recycling industry continues to grow, so do the number of available jobs, each with its own safety and health risks.

Collection

In 2008, the Waste Management and Remediation Services industry had a fatality rate of 20.3 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, which is over 5 times the fatality rate for all industries.2 Nearly 60% of these fatalities were transportation related, while 12% were contacted/struck by and 8% were exposures to harmful substances or fires/explosions.

To address one of the safety and health issues in the Waste Collection industry, in December 2003 OSHA published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin: Crushing Hazards Associated with Dumpsters and Rear-loading Trash Trucks. The bulletin’s purpose was to raise the awareness of the Waste Collection industry to the risks that employees working behind collection trucks faced.

In August 2008, as part of the OSHA and Energy Recovery Council (ERC) Alliance, ERC developed "Hauler Safety Campaign, Safety: Do It For Life." The annual campaign educates public and private waste haulers, municipal and private owners and operators, and facility workers about best practices on tipping floor safety. It also encourages the men and women who haul and dispose of solid waste to focus on their safety practices and their families’ and friends’ well-being as they do their jobs.

Resources

OSHA Safety & Health Topics page: Motor Vehicle Safety

Workers involved in waste collection may be at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from workplace activities which force them to work beyond their physical capacities (i.e., lifting an item that is too heavy, or lifting too often, or working in awkward body postures). MSDs are a serious problem as they can increase the number of employee lost work days, increase insurance costs, increase training and staffing costs, and reduce operation efficiency and quality.  Improvements in the workstation designs, work pace, work postures, weight of materials and other changes allow workers to work within their physical limits and will likely reduce the number errors, sick days, and injuries and enable workers to be more productive and produce a higher quality product. Ergonomic improvements are often simple and obvious, such as sorting on elevated tables, the use of simple lifting mechanisms, and rotating workers through different job tasks.

Washington Department of Labor and Industry Demonstration Project: Solid Waste Management and Recycling

The use of automated collection would significantly reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and is advocated by EPA in Publication EPA530-R-99-038 - Getting More for Less, Improving Collection Efficiency.

Scrap Metal Recycling:

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 2001.1 (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, which is the best resource currently available from OSHA.

Lead overexposure is one of the most common overexposures found in all industries and is a leading cause of workplace illness. Therefore, OSHA has established the reduction of lead exposure to be a high strategic priority.

It is also a major potential public health risk. In general populations, lead may be present in hazardous concentrations in food, water, and air. Sources include paint, urban dust, and folk remedies. Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children. At greatest risk are children under the age of six because they are undergoing rapid neurological and physical development.

Workers in the recycling industry are vulnerable to lead exposure as the recycled material, especially electronics or scrap metal may contain lead.  As these recyclables are being crushed, burned, or cut, workers could be exposed to airborne lead.

The following resources provide information on the hazards of lead and methods of protection.

OSHA Lead Standard

OSHA Lead Safety & Health Topics

OSHA Factsheet: Protecting Workers from Lead

Washington Department of Labor and Industry: Preventing Lead Poisoning in Scrap Metal Recycling

NIOSH Lead Page

Amputations and crushed fingers and hands are among the most severe and disabling workplace injuries that often result in permanent disability.  They are widespread and involve various activities and equipment. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2005 annual survey data indicated that there were 8,450 non-fatal amputation cases – involving days away from work – for all private industry. Approximately forty-four percent (44%) of all workplace amputations occurred in the manufacturing sector and the rest occurred across the construction, agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, and service industries.) These injuries result from the use and care of machines such as saws, presses, conveyors, and bending, rolling or shaping machines as well as from powered and non-powered hand tools, forklifts, doors, trash compactors and during materials handling activities.

Recycling facilities may use machines of various configurations and may expose workers to hazards of moving parts of the machines, if not safeguarded properly.  Employers must ensure that the workers are protected from the machine hazards and workers should make sure that the rotating parts and points of operation of machines are properly guarded prior to using them. Resources on machine guarding are provided below:

"Lockout/Tagout (LOTO)" refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard workers from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.

Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if lockout/tagout is not properly implemented. Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation. In a study conducted by the United Auto Workers (UAW), 20% of the fatalities (83 of 414) that occurred among their members between 1973 and 1995 were attributed to inadequate hazardous energy control procedures, specifically lockout/tagout procedures.

Employers must implement lockout/tagout procedures outlined in OSHA standards.  See 29 CFR 1910.147.

The following are some of the significant requirements of a Lockout/Tagout procedure, required under a Lockout/Tagout program.

  • Only authorized workers may lockout or tagout machines or equipment in order to perform servicing or maintenance.

  • Lockout devices (locks) and tagout devices shall not be used for any other purposes and must be used only for controlling energy.

  • Lockout and tagout devices (locks and tags) must identify the name of the worker applying the device.

  • All energy sources to equipment must be identified and isolated.

  • After the energy is isolated from the machine or equipment, the isolating device(s) must be locked out or tagged out in safe or off position only by the authorized employees.

  • Following the application of the lockout or tagout devices to the energy isolating devices, the stored or residual energy must be safely discharged or relieved.

  • Prior to starting work on the equipment, the authorized employee shall verify that the equipment is isolated from the energy source, for example, by operating the on/off switch on the machine or equipment.

  • Lock and tag must remain on the machine until the work is completed.

  • Only the authorized employee who placed the lock and tag must remove his/her lock or tag, unless the employer has a specific procedure as outlined in OSHA's Lockout/Tagout standard.

Some additional general resources on Lockout/Tagout are provided below:

Cardboard Baling:

Many companies throughout the country use cardboard compacting machines to reduce the volume of cardboard stored on site (companies typically store the bundled cardboard until picked up for recycling). The unintended activation of a baling machine can have catastrophic results.

Amputations and crushed fingers and hands are among the most severe and disabling workplace injuries that often result in permanent disability.  They are widespread and involve various activities and equipment. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2005 annual survey data indicated that there were 8,450 non-fatal amputation cases – involving days away from work – for all private industry. Approximately forty-four percent (44%) of all workplace amputations occurred in the manufacturing sector and the rest occurred across the construction, agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, and service industries.) These injuries result from the use and care of machines such as saws, presses, conveyors, and bending, rolling or shaping machines as well as from powered and non-powered hand tools, forklifts, doors, trash compactors and during materials handling activities.

Recycling facilities may use machines of various configurations and may expose workers to hazards of moving parts of the machines, if not safeguarded properly.  Employers must ensure that the workers are protected from the machine hazards and workers should make sure that the rotating parts and points of operation of machines are properly guarded prior to using them. Resources on machine guarding are provided below:

"Lockout/Tagout (LOTO)" refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard workers from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.

Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if lockout/tagout is not properly implemented. Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation. In a study conducted by the United Auto Workers (UAW), 20% of the fatalities (83 of 414) that occurred among their members between 1973 and 1995 were attributed to inadequate hazardous energy control procedures, specifically lockout/tagout procedures.

Employers must implement lockout/tagout procedures outlined in OSHA standards.  See 29 CFR 1910.147.

The following are some of the significant requirements of a Lockout/Tagout procedure, required under a Lockout/Tagout program.

  • Only authorized workers may lockout or tagout machines or equipment in order to perform servicing or maintenance.

  • Lockout devices (locks) and tagout devices shall not be used for any other purposes and must be used only for controlling energy.

  • Lockout and tagout devices (locks and tags) must identify the name of the worker applying the device.

  • All energy sources to equipment must be identified and isolated.

  • After the energy is isolated from the machine or equipment, the isolating device(s) must be locked out or tagged out in safe or off position only by the authorized employees.

  • Following the application of the lockout or tagout devices to the energy isolating devices, the stored or residual energy must be safely discharged or relieved.

  • Prior to starting work on the equipment, the authorized employee shall verify that the equipment is isolated from the energy source, for example, by operating the on/off switch on the machine or equipment.

  • Lock and tag must remain on the machine until the work is completed.

  • Only the authorized employee who placed the lock and tag must remove his/her lock or tag, unless the employer has a specific procedure as outlined in OSHA's Lockout/Tagout standard.

Some additional general resources on Lockout/Tagout are provided below:

The Department of Labor is committed to helping young workers find positive, appropriate and safe employment experiences. The youth employment provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) were enacted to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions which are detrimental to their health or well-being. These provisions include restrictions on the types of jobs that minors may perform.

One such provision, Hazardous Occupations Order No. 12 (HO 12), generally prohibits minors less than 18 years of age from loading, operating, and unloading certain power-driven paper processing machines, including scrap paper balers, paper box compactors, guillotine paper cutters or shears, platen printing presses, and envelope die-cutting presses. The prohibitions concerning balers and compactors extend to equipment that processes other materials in addition to paper, such as trash, foam rubber, metal, food waste, plastic and fabric.

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits workers under the age of 18 from operating cardboard baling machines.

OSHA Safety & Health Topics Page: Teen Workers

NIOSH FACE Report: Recycling Center Laborer Crushed in Baling Machine - Tennessee

References

1 U.S. EPA - Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008

2 Hours-based fatality rates by industry, occupation, and selected demographic characteristics, 2008

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