Professional recycling companies join the throng of companies that put safety and security at the top of their “list to improve”.
The decision to establish a safe working environment for workers not only meets state and federal safety regulations for the industry, but also puts your most important assets – your employees – at the center of your safety measures.
Terry Dussault, an environmental health and safety (EH&S) professional and president of Yellowknife Consulting Services, has experience in environmental compliance on a variety of projects, including those involving contamination from past manufacturing and distribution operations. .
According to Dussault, on average, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, the waste recycling industry has a rate of about 45 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalents, more than 5 times the death rate of all industries. Moreover, the numbers have continued to increase since 2020.
“Work and transport accidents are the main cause and the average is over 60%, which is alarming for safety professionals,” says Dussault. “Automated equipment such as conveyors, which move waste and recyclables through the sorting process, are among the biggest safety concerns in recycling and sorting facilities.”
And while the safety of recycling and sorting facilities is a major concern for the industry, so is the safety of the recyclers who gather and collect items for recycling – whether Curbside collection in residential areas or the increase in transportation of lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles.
In fact, many of today’s safety issues are changing as new wastes are introduced by the green movement. For example, as Dussault explained, electric cars were designed with highly efficient batteries, and competition among automakers to continually improve their batteries forces them to use new metals, chemicals, and other materials.
“The main problem is that new-style batteries are not designed with sustainability in mind. This means the recycling process is extremely difficult and unprofitable,” Dussault said. “Toyota USA representatives have been struggling for years to find a solution to the millions of used and faulty electric batteries being returned to them by dealers. The cost of battery storage continues to rise as they try to find a logical solution.”
Rick Perez, founder and CEO of Avangard Innovative, an Americas waste and recycling company operating in 11 countries, agreed that as the green movement advances at a rapid pace, adding teammates increases the risks of incidents.
“We’re starting to see bigger recycling centers, bigger equipment, new technologies, chemical processing and other factors that make the recycling industry more industrial,” Perez said. “With the increasing demand for additional recycling centers needed to support growth, it is inevitable that there will be more security issues. As we grow, it is even more important to onboard new members of the team with the same training and expectations that we currently have in place We will evolve to reduce exposure where we can and have a highly skilled team.
Additionally, Perez said the major safety issues facing recycling and sorting are much the same as other manufacturers. Slips, trips, and falls pose the greatest risk when processing materials that involve sorting, washing, and processing.
“Installations tend to require the direct influence of floor mates moving around equipment and material to ensure the process is up to standard, regardless of the varying load of recyclable materials,” said said Perez. “Some of the biggest safety issues we see at recycling facilities are hand and eye injuries. This is due to the heavy machinery, conveyor systems, crushers and chemicals used in the recycling industry.
Adopt security protocols and measures
Establishing proper safety protocols depends on many factors, including the type of recycling facility, the materials being handled, and the state in which the recycling facility is operating.
Although there is no national law that mandates safety rules for recycling facilities, state and local governments often have their own regulations and requirements. Additionally, as Perez explained, other agencies and protocols, such as the EPA or the Occupational Safety Environmental Analysis (JSEA), oversee the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which would provide a non-obvious regulations on hazardous waste, landfill regulations and recycling materials.
“Each company should have its own safety management system in place, which takes into account national and local safety regulations and recommendations,” Perez said.
Dussault added that security measures at recycling facilities should include the use of controlled access zones to prevent ground personnel from accessing high-risk areas with traffic. Vehicles and transport equipment should be equipped with cameras and proximity sensors to increase safety.
“Indoor facility management can implement engineering controls such as special lighting, ventilation, and water misters to mitigate dust and odors,” Dussault said. “At metal recycling facilities, employers and workers should be educated on the potential for exposure to lead, cadmium and chromium when fumes are generated from smelting. Heavy metals are toxic and known to cause cancer and other health problems.
Dussault recommends that at lead recycling facilities, routine worker medical surveillance be performed for all front-line workers to ensure blood lead levels do not exceed OSHA standards.
Avangard Innovative believes that safety is the primary responsibility of every team, at the teammate level.
“You don’t walk past unsafe acts, conditions, or hazards without taking immediate action. Even if you don’t know what to do, you can alert the rest of the team to fix the problem,” Perez said.
Avangard Innovative uses standard protocols such as personal protective equipment (PPE), safety training and equipment protection in accordance with OSHA standards. Additionally, Avangard Innovative teammates are trained and encouraged to recognize unsafe conditions and notify their supervisor for immediate action.
“The most important step is to make sure the teammates who are about to execute fully understand that they have the power to speak and act,” Perez said. “When they see something unsafe, companies need to support their ability to recognize unsafe acts, conditions and hazards and know they can take action to keep us all safe. Our leadership team, from the President to supervisors, also regularly walks the floor with the intention of recognizing safety issues and areas of opportunity.
So who pays for the cost of regular worker monitoring?
“The employer is responsible for all costs associated with a medical follow-up program,” Dussault said.
It is important for recycling companies to know the safety requirements of the state in which they operate, as there are many recycling requirements that vary from state to state.
“In general, California tends to have some of the strictest regulations when it comes to recycling, treatment and waste disposal facilities,” Dussault said.
“Nationally, the United States sets the bar high for workplace safety. Most industry experts believe that recycling and waste rules and regulations will continue to get stricter and more expensive in the future. What is the advantage to this? This may be the birth of many new and innovative materials that are yet to be realized.
Perez said the future of safety in the recycling industry will require recyclers to have a voice with organizations such as OSHA, local fire departments and other regulatory agencies, in order to adapt and create measures adapted to our industry.
“The variation in incoming recyclable materials and ever-changing processes can challenge existing regulations,” Perez said. “And this may require adaptation in order to increase the share of recycled materials.”
Published in June 2022 edition