In spite of recycling being great for the environment, recycling facilities (MRFs) can be hazardous places to work. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a report in 2018 that showed there had been an increase in fatalities in the waste industry. Cited as the fifth deadliest job, it’s an understatement to say that safety is important at an MRF. Safety should be a culture that is embraced and practiced regularly. Here are some examples of health and safety risks that can be found while working at an MRF.
Out of the 49 people who suffered fatalities in 2018, 75% of those were due to transportation issues. Heavy machinery is used to move materials, putting workers at risk of being run over if they are not careful. Forklifts, trucks, and front-end loaders are often carrying weights in excess of a ton. Not only that, but bales of heavy materials can also fall off the equipment and strike workers nearby.
Despite their best efforts, many consumers remain ignorant about what can and cannot be recycled. Unfortunately, this results in an array of items landing up in sorting facilities that are not only unrecyclable but can also be extremely dangerous.
While single-stream recycling has improved the recycling rate, MRF operations are now required to have employees sort through recycling instead of consumers. Workers must contend with fast-moving conveyor belts that move materials through, so they may not be able to identify the risk in time before being exposed. Examples of exposure risks can include:
- Biohazards including human and animal waste, rotting food waste, used diapers and sanitary napkins, and pathogens carrying diseases.
- Sharp objects such as metal and glass
- Hazardous chemicals that have been disposed of improperly
- Dead and rotting animals and other organic matter
Chemical exposure aside, waste and recyclable materials can generate a lot of dust all by themselves. This dust is full of micro-particles that can contain little bits of all the toxins and substances that are found in the waste and recycling coming into the facility. While masks and proper ventilation will greatly reduce the risk of respiratory hazards, irritants can still wreak havoc in your system if you don’t wear them as needed.
While MRFs are considered a dangerous place to work, the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) is committed to improving safety standards and practices. They do realize that firm steps are necessary to help understand and further prevent fatalities in the workplace.