Ask The Operator: Landfill Safety

As you may remember from the November issue of World Wastes, Lee Chate is responsible for the operation of the Anytown Sanitary Landfill, Anytown, U.S. In prior issues, he examined water and landfill gas monitoring.

Lee's facility strives to protect its employees and the surrounding environment, so he must be sure that equipment functions properly, that traffic through the facility flows logically and smoothly and that site activities are closely monitored to ensure a safe, secure operation.

To help him manage his operation effectively, Lee often seeks assistance from experts in his field. In this issue, Lee contacts other landfill operators for practical advice in general site safety and monitoring of the incoming waste stream. Let's join him as he consults Bill Hase, a former landfill operator for Henrico County, Va., and currently a consultant.

Lee: Bill? Lee Chate at Anytown.

Bill: Good morning, Lee. What can I do to help you out today?

Lee: I'm concerned about safety at my landfill and how to prevent problems from occurring. Any advice?

Bill: My first suggestion is to spend money up front to reduce the potential for problems. I know that most landfill operators have limited budgets and it is difficult to find the money to spend, but items like good roads, signs and fencing can dramatically increase safety on a landfill. Roads should be built properly and maintained in good condition to keep traffic flowing, prevent vehicles from getting stuck and reduce flat tire hazards. Some operators try to save money by building a road that's okay in good weather, but they end up spending a lot of their budgets repairing roads when bad weather sets in.

Lee: Can you give me some specific suggestions?

Bill: Anticipate where you need roads and build them in good weather months. If you don't have compaction equipment, let the landfill traffic run on the subgrade a couple of days before placing stone. A geotextile placed under the stone usually can save money by reducing the amount of stone that is needed for construction, and can save more in the long run by reducing maintenance on the road.

Lee: I plan to add a small dropoff center near the landfill entrance for the public to use. Any ideas about this?

Bill: A public use area is a great idea because it keeps vehicles away from the working face. The best sites usually have a retaining wall with roll-off boxes, containers or even dump trucks on the lower level. The users don't have to throw waste up into a box, they can just drop them into a container. Be sure to include a small wall or guard rail in front of the containers to prevent vehicles from backing too far and to keep people from falling into the containers. Also, I have seen people get hurt from falling into the boxes while they were trying to scavenge items. It's a shame to landfill items that others could use, but scavenging can be dangerous.

Lee: What about safety at the work face?

Bill: Consider keeping vehicles separated. Sometimes landfill operators try to squeeze vehicles together so they don't have to push waste very far, but it is safer to have a good margin between the trucks. A spotter can be very helpful for larger landfills and can be used in busy times for smaller sites. The spotter can coordinate the traffic with the equipment operator and can keep vehicles such as roll-offs that need a wide area to open the rear gate away from other trucks. Also, trucks that must be unloaded by hand, or where the drivers or helpers have to get out of their trucks to open rear gates, should be separated from trucks that dump. Loads being dumped can spread out several feet and create hazards, or at least unnerve anyone else who is trying to unload.

Lee: How do you direct activity at your landfill?

Bill: You need clearly marked signs to direct landfill users. Make sure that the signs are large enough to read and don't try to put too much information on a single sign. Keep the message simple and use arrows where possible. Fencing and gates should be used if there are areas where you don't want landfill traffic. I've seen plenty of customers drive around trying to find the working face. I've even seen some get tired of looking and just stop on the road and begin to unload.

Lee: Yes, that's happened to me, too. Any thoughts on employee safety?

Bill: Beyond gloves and safety shoes, protect employees from dust and noise if they are not working in enclosed cabs. Make sure that at least one person on the work site is trained in first aid. Accidents may happen and it is critical that someone respond immediately.

Lee: What other preventive measures should be taken?

Bill: A fire control plan is crucial. Just having 911 or the number of the local fire department is not sufficient. Make sure that everyone on the site knows what to do if a fire breaks out. All heavy equipment should be equipped with a fire suppressant system. Hand-held fire extinguishers should be kept in each piece of equipment and in any other vehicles on the site. Be sure to check each fire extinguisher monthly and recharge them when needed. From personal experience, it is very frustrating to try to put out a small fire with five extinguishers that are uncharged.

Lee: What about equipment safety?

Bill: Keep equipment clean and in proper operating condition. Clean equipment is much less likely to catch fire than equipment that is caked with grease, oil and trash. Make sure that employees are trained on the equipment. Equipment manufacturers can provide training sessions or videos that are useful. It is dangerous to have someone operate a piece of heavy equipment without proper training. Finally, hold monthly safety meetings with all employees. Give them a chance to speak about safety issues. Many times they are aware of potential problems that the supervisor may overlook. Use their experience and judgment.

Lee: Bill, what about screening the waste coming into the landfill? Subtitle D regulations state that we have to check random loads of wastes for hazardous or polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) wastes. We also don't want other unacceptable wastes. Do you have any ideas for setting up a waste screening program?

Bill: You should contact Jennifer Ladd at the Southeastern Public Service Authority to find out about waste inspections. They have a successful program and should be able to give you some good advice.

Lee: Thanks for your help, Bill. I'll give them a call.

Lee has received a few helpful tips. Upfront planning and preparation can reduce the number of safety problems and prevent dangers to employees and landfill users.

Waste Inspections Next, Lee calls Jennifer Ladd, director of environmental management with the Southeastern Public Service Authority in Chesapeake, Va.

Lee: Jennifer, this is Lee Chate, operator of the Anytown Sanitary Landfill. Bill Hase at Draper Aden Associates suggested I give you a call to find out more about your screening program for the transfer stations and the landfill in your service authority. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Jennifer: Sure, Lee. How can I help you?

Lee: Can you explain to me how your waste inspection program is set up?>H

Jennifer: We started our program back in 1989 with just one inspector. Currently we have five inspectors who screen the waste at our transfer stations, landfill and RDF [refuse-derived fuel] plant. The inspectors also visit our industrial waste generators on a regular basis to verify and approve their waste at the source. Since October 9, these inspectors have been conducting random load checks at all of the facilities as required by the Subtitle D regulations.

Lee: What are the inspectors looking for?

Jennifer: They are trained to spot labels, boxes, bags, closed drums, smoking wastes or odors which might indicate regulated hazardous waste or PCB waste. We have written policies and procedures that explain the characteristics of hazardous materials and symbols or key words to look for on containers. The inspectors themselves train our other employees to look for unacceptable items. That way, we can actually inspect more of our incoming waste than the inspections document.

Lee: We have other wastes that are prohibited in our landfill. Should these be addressed in the policies as well?

Jennifer: Yes. Wastes prohibited at the landfill, transfer station and the RDF plant are listed, including paint cans, asbestos and items that normally may not be included in a waste screening program like un drained oil filters.

Lee: Sometimes policies are more fluff than substance. Have yours really been useful?

Jennifer: They definitely have. Along with providing actual information that our employees can use, one of the most important benefits is that word gets out to the haulers that we have written policies. They call SPSA for information before they try to dispose of any questionable waste. The goal of our screening process is to stop the disposal of unacceptable waste, and not to wait until the waste gets to the transfer stations or the landfill.

Lee: Good point. Once waste reaches the facility it is extremely hard to spot any hazardous materials. You mentioned documentation of inspections. What kind of documentation do you keep?

Jennifer: We keep an inspection log along with the inspection reports. We send a copy of the inspection report to the hauler. If any hazardous or PCB waste is found, we send a copy of the report to the state regulatory agency.

Lee: How do you select the trucks to inspect?

Jennifer: We looked at our commercial waste volume and determined how many loads to inspect per facility. Our goal is to inspect approximately 1 percent of the commercial waste stream. Trucks are selected through a random number generated to prevent any particular hauler from being singled out. Loads of waste are dumped separately on the tipping floors of the transfer stations or at the working face of the landfill.

Lee: What happens if unacceptable wastes are found?

Jennifer: We keep any unacceptable items and have contractors dispose of them. The haulers are then billed for the cost of disposal. We met with the haulers to discuss this program and they liked our approach because they did not know what to do with the materials if they were given back.

Lee: That sounds like a great idea. When we make a hauler remove unacceptable materials we are not really sure what will eventually happen with them.

Jennifer: That's true, Lee. We were fortunate enough to have a program already in place for waste screening applications. We also have a household hazardous waste program, so contractors are already established for hauling hazardous wastes. It will be difficult for some landfills to establish a waste screening program because of the lack of employees and facilities.

Lee: Yes, we're in that position. Thanks for sharing your experience with me Jennifer. It will be a big help in setting up our inspection program.

Lee now has a lot of information to consider. Since 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency has required that all landfills implement a program to screen for regulated hazardous wastes and PCB wastes. Workshops sponsored by trade organizations such as the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) provide guidance for establishing and conducting a waste screening program.

However, information must be tailored for each individual site. Some facilities may have areas to separate and inspect waste loads, while smaller sites can inspect random loads at the landfill working face. Landfill operators must know their users to determine which may be likely to generate hazardous or other prohibited wastes, and must have a plan for dealing with hazardous waste if it is found.

As Jennifer Ladd pointed out, the goal of a waste screening program is to stop hazardous materials from entering the municipal solid waste stream at the source. That is the best way to successfully protect our environment.