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A person holding a list titled "risk assessment" for Safety Month 2023
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Safety Month 2023: Recycling Industry

 by Jack McLellan,

Safety Month 2023: Recycling Safety

Did you know that according to The AMCS Group, recycling industry injuries hit an all-time low in 2022? While the industry is still in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) top 10 most dangerous industries, it’s decreased from 5th to 7th place. Part of the reason for this decrease has been advancements in technology, but raising awareness towards safety best practices has also played a role in decreasing the number of injuries. 

Here are some of the most common recycling industry safety hazards and prevention methods to raise awareness for national safety month.

Airborne Contaminants

According to the BLS, in 2021, due to the prominence of COVID-19, airborne contaminants and respiratory illnesses are the number one cause of sickness among recycling industry workers. Even before COVID, minimizing airborne contaminants was essential for managing worker safety. COVID mainly brought more attention to the problem.

The primary airborne contaminant in recycling facilities is dust. Depending on the materials processed at your facility, this dust could contain glass, plastic, biohazards, mold, asbestos, silica, and other hazardous materials that could cause health problems when inhaled. For example, long-term exposure to silica dust can lead to issues like silicosis or lung cancer.

There are several preventative measures recycling facilities can take to prevent airborne contaminants:

  • Providing N95 masks for employees
  • Installing proper ventilation systems
  • Installing machinery that minimizes the release/spread of pollutants

Hazardous Materials

Airborne contaminants aren’t the only environmental hazard recycling workers have to interact with. Different recycling facilities cover other materials or specialize in specific types (i.e., C&D or e-waste). Larger recycling facilities will likely deal with everyday waste and garbage, including household items. These plants sometimes run into biohazards such as fecal matter, dead animals, blood, used needles, and more. 

Management should implement policies and procedures to handle these hazards in advance. For example, if a line worker sees hazardous materials such as blood or needles, they should stop the line and call a trained supervisor to dispose of it. Keep proper PPE, like gloves, masks, or goggles, nearby and easily accessible.

Perform regular training and inform employees of proper procedures for handling hazardous materials. 

Ergonomic Hazards

Environmental hazards are often the most well-known hazards in recycling and waste facilities. However, line workers can develop musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel, back injuries, and poor posture from repetitive jobs. Working on a recycling line leads to repetitive motions such as leaning over, standing, and using your hands for hours. 

Educating your employees on proper posture and stretching can help mitigate repetitive motion’s adverse effects. Additionally, alternating who does what task can reduce workers’ strain. Regular breaks, stretching, and task alternation are crucial to prevent postural injuries.

Machine and Equipment Hazards

The most widely known and unfortunate accidents in recycling plants are related to heavy machinery. Equipment falling, malfunctioning, or otherwise, can lead to serious physical injuries or death. Knowing what to do to prevent these accidents is critical to avoiding them. Properly training employees and certifying them to use equipment such as forklifts or sorting machines can significantly decrease the likelihood of workplace injuries.

Automate procedures when possible to make your facilities safer for employees to navigate. Machines that can automatically sort through certain materials to minimize the amount workers have to go through helps keep the conveyor line cleaner and safer. 

Incident Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is more than just a figure of speech; it applies to almost every aspect of injury prevention. Being proactive about incidents is the best way to avoid them altogether.

Routine Training

Train workers about best practices immediately when they are hired and then again every so often. OSHA recommends doing this at least once every 12 months but doing so more frequently can’t hurt. 

Equipment training

When you purchase new equipment or revise safety procedures, host training again to ensure everyone is informed and knows best practices. Some companies offer safety and maintenance training when purchasing new equipment.

Review Policies

Keep your safety training and policies up to date with OSHA and other industry guidelines. 

Inspect Regularly

Regularly check the machinery to make sure it is working correctly. Additionally, check to make sure that workers are following safety policies.

Celebrate Safety Month With General Kinematics

General Kinematics has been dedicated to worker safety for over sixty years. Contact us to learn more about how General Kinematics equipment can help keep your recycling plant safer.

Jack McLellan

Marketing Coordinator

Jack specializes in creating compelling digital marketing content such as social media, blog posts, newsletters, and more. He works with General Kinematics industry experts to develop educational content for the foundry, recycling, mining, and aggregate industries.