Safety's Savings

May 1, 2005

8 Min Read
Safety's Savings

R. Michael Hand Sr.

AT A LANDFILL OR TRANSFER station, safety is about saving — saving lives; saving families and friends from suffering; saving equipment; and subsequently saving money by reducing overtime, workmen's compensation and insurance payments, and the need for temporary employees.

An effective health and safety program rewards companies with a happier workforce, which often results in better productivity and less downtime. Consequently, at a minimum, companies should require every employee to complete thorough safety training before beginning work in the field or office. This ensures they are aware of potential workplace dangers.

Organizations such as the Solid Waste Association of North American, Silver Spring, Md., and Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, provide training programs for workers and landfill and transfer station operations. At a minimum, managers, assistant managers and foremen should be required to take those or similarly credited courses. They then can develop a training program to meet companies' specific requirements.

Identifying Hazards

Hazards can be caused by slips, trips, falls, heavy equipment, traffic, dust and electrical problems, or other dangers specific to a waste operation, to name a few. [See “Identifying Hazards” on page 83.]

A good solid waste manager considers employees, equipment and the facility in the safety program. This helps to identify potential hazards and control, reduce or eliminate the workplace dangers.

For example, if managers notice hazardous materials are showing up at a transfer station, they should make efforts to find the source of the materials. Repeat hazards often originate from the same source. So if the manager can determine which truck is bringing in the worrisome material, then he can require a more thorough inspection of the truck whenever it arrives at the facility. He also can educate the waste generator on how to prevent the problem.

The following are a few hazards employees and employers should be aware of.

What's the Racket?

Long-term noise is problematic. If noise exceed 85 decibels during an eight-hour period, it has exceeded the acceptable limits. Noise at 90 decibels during an eight-hour period can cause hearing loss. Fortunately, most equipment cabs limit noise to acceptable standards.

Biologically Speaking

At a landfill or transfer station, many biological hazards exist, such as animal bites, rodents, birds, stray animals, poisonous plants, and insects such as bees, mosquitoes and wasps. It can be difficult to control many of these potential hazards, so care must be taken to avoid animals that may show up at a site.

Vectors usually arrive at a well-maintained site on a truck. To prevent them from surviving at your facility, eliminate potential food sources by properly cleaning the area daily and spraying for insects. Birds are not usually problematic at transfer stations, but they may cause a few problems if the site is not cleaned of waste daily. If animals do not go away despite keeping a site clean, call animal control.

Ergonomically Correct

One of the most common waste injuries is a back injury, which often occurs when tarping a truck load by lifting, twisting, jerking, reaching or bending. It is difficult to determine the degree of pain associated with back injuries, and it is difficult to treat them.

If possible, workers should eliminate processes that result in back pain. Back belts are recommended if an employee has had a previous back injury. Otherwise, the Washington-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not recommend belts.

On Your Feet

Particularly at transfer stations and landfills, the risk of falling is high. If a facility has an open pit, it is possible for an employee or piece of equipment to fall into the pit. Also, employees should be careful on elevated walkways, ladders or scaffolding that falling from could lead to serious injury.

The most common injury involving heavy equipment occurs when operators fall while mounting or dismounting a truck or vehicle. Thus, operators should be trained in the three-points-of-contact method. This requires workers to have three points of contact, such as legs or arms, securely placed when climbing in or out of equipment. Having fewer than three points of contact makes it easier for an operator to twist an ankle or knee while jumping or falling off a truck.

Particularly on the East Coast, transfer stations sometimes have a wet floor if they receive waste throughout the day. This may cause employees to slip, especially if truck drivers are climbing out of vehicles to unlock or unhook rear doors.

If the public uses a facility, they could slip, trip or fall. So be sure the public doesn't unload into an open pit without fall protection, such as a pipe fence or double-railing at least 4 feet high to prevent someone from walking off into the pit or drop-off container.

The public also should not discharge waste into a facility that has more than a 4-foot drop. To avoid injury when falling from a more than 4-foot drop, a person would need protection. Children and pets who require careful supervision also should not be allowed in waste facilities.

Operating Heavy Equipment

Transfer stations use many pieces of heavy equipment daily, including a loader, backhoe and/or trackhoe, transfer truck, collection vehicle, dozer, fixed compactor, grinder, conveyor and baler. Operators should receive training on all equipment in the event that they have to assist or fill in for a sick or absent employee.

Employees always should complete walk-around inspections before starting equipment, as well as every time they dismount and remount the equipment. This will help each employee check for problems that may be visible and could cause a problem, such as a fire, due to leaking hoses or fuel tanks, electrical shortages due to worn wires, or other hazards such as linkage problems that could cause injuries to nearby employees. In addition to safety problems, employees may discover situations that require immediate maintenance to prevent costly repairs later.


Lockout-tagout is a system that warns anyone not to use, start, or in anyway do something at, under or around a piece of equipment as long as it has been locked or tagged out. This may include any type of machinery, electrical units or moving equipment.

All employees should be trained on lockout-tagout procedures so that they understand the dangers of violating this process. Serious injuries and death can result from someone starting up a motor, engine or electrical device while the lockout-tagout notification is in place.

Thus, a lockout-tagout plan should include what, where, when, how and who. Managers must have regular lockout-tagout training for mechanical items that are in confined spaces, such as pits, manholes, hoppers, compactors, grinders and fuel tanks. Training for confined spaces is difficult to emphasize and implement unless it becomes a normal daily, weekly or monthly task.

Even if an employee does not work in a confined space, provide training on: what a confined space is; the dangers of confined spaces; why only trained personnel are allowed into the space; and why permits are issued to all persons involved in confined spaces. There is a high risk of death if procedures are not followed.

In Case of Emergency

In addition to training to prevent accidents from occurring, managers also must equip employees to react to hazards with an emergency action plan. Employees should be able to recognize types of emergencies, such as bomb threats, earthquakes, fires, floods and hazardous material spills. An emergency plan informs employees who to call and what to do in certain situations, such as whether to evacuate, check with the main office or report to a check point. First aid training should be available to as many employees as possible.

Reporting Accidents

If an accident occurs, keep a record of it. Reporting procedures may include informing management and possibly OSHA. Managers should be familiar with OSHA reporting requirements, including the types of accidents that should be reported, the OSHA 300 log, death, dismemberment, hospitalization and missed work days.

Every accident should be followed by an investigation to determine the causes, corrective actions and additional training to prevent a similar event from occurring.

Despite the best-laid plans, accidents that were not anticipated will occur. When this happens, a well-trained employee will be able to treat an injury and manage the incident until the proper authorities arrive.

Mickey Hand is the principal of Rohan Environmental waste disposal consulting firm, which is based in Hemet and Venice Beach, Calif.


Employees should understand how to identify potential dangers so that they can avoid them. In addition to heavy equipment, dust, biological, traffic and electrical hazards, accidents can result from:

NoiseRolloversChemical exposure • Fires • Stepping on and off equipmentColliding with a person or vehicle • Driving off the tipping floor and into the loading area • Spotters in high-tonnage trafficGetting runover • Slips, trips and falls.

Consequently, employees should be on the lookout for potential dangers in: propane tanks; chemical containers; drug lab waste; red biohazard bags; flammable, reactive or corrosive materials; bright-colored markings (red, blue, yellow); triangle-shaped or crossbones markings; liquids; closed containers; and sharps containers.
Mickey Hand

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