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Safety First

Not to Be Ignored

Although collection employees and vehicles receive a lot of the attention in the waste and recycling industry’s effort to reduce accidents and injuries, post-collection operations pose their own safety-related challenges. Post-collection facilities generally fall into one of three categories: (1) transfer stations, (2) landfills, and (3) recycling facilities. While these sites share several common safety hazards, each type of facility poses unique issues that managers, supervisors and front-line workers need to keep in mind.

A few safety recommendations apply to all of these facilities. First, all employees need to wear high-visibility clothing so they can be seen by fellow workers and customers. Second, all post-collection facilities should require supervisors to perform job observations to make sure that heavy equipment operators, spotters, maintenance and shop employees, sorters and other workers are doing their work in compliance with applicable company safety rules. Third, because trucks and heavy equipment are moving constantly, often in tight spaces, these facilities need to have traffic-management plans and to make sure their customers are aware of such plans. Fourth, under no circumstances should scavenging from the trash be permitted, by outsiders or employees. (A Virginia sanitation department employee learned this the hard way a few years ago when the microwave oven he pulled out of the trash caused an electrical fire at his workplace.) Finally, a fire prevention and suppression system is a must, as fires can occur at these facilities for a number of reasons.

As for the site-specific safety challenges, bear in mind the following:

Transfer Stations — Because collection vehicles, long-haul trucks and heavy equipment often work in close proximity to each other, space management on a transfer station tipping floor is essential, as is a traffic plan that keeps inbound waste collection vehicles and outbound long-haul trucks separate to prevent collisions.

Landfills — At landfills, equipment operators need to perform pre-operation inspections on loaders, compactors and other heavy equipment to make sure the equipment is in working order, and that brakes, lights and other safety features are operational. Operators of landfill equipment should wear their safety belts at all times. Occasionally, equipment may overturn on the slope of a landfill, and if the operator is not secured inside, a serious injury or fatality can result. Also, operators need to use three points of contact when mounting or dismounting to avoid a nasty fall off of their equipment.

Recycling Facilities — At traditional recycling facilities with multiple sort lines, workers face potential exposure to repetitive stress (ergonomic) injuries as they try to grab recyclables and place them in bins. Pickers also need to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, especially gloves, to avoid hand injuries and needle sticks.

The increase in single-stream recycling poses new safety challenges for recycling sites. Although the process is largely automated, employees clearing screens and belts need to keep an eye out for slippery conditions, which can cause them to fall off the equipment. When compactors or balers jam or when routine maintenance is being performed, it is essential that lock-out/tag-out procedures are followed. Finally, bales need to be stacked and handled properly to prevent injuries.

Managers at these facilities have a variety of safety resources to reduce accidents and injuries. These include the American National Standards Institute Z245 safety standards, the Environmental Industry Associations’ Manual of Recommended Safety Practices and the National Solid Wastes Management Association’s “Be Safe, Be Proud” video series, (all of which can be found here). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website also contains useful information, and the sellers of equipment, machines and systems used at disposal facilities can help companies and local governments address safety issues — and reduce accidents and injuries.

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