Keeping MRFs Safe And Sound

Running a safe materials recovery facility (MRF) is a complex, continuous and often expensive proposition. However, most MRF managers agree that it's worth the time and expense. Aside from the legal aspects - which render cost questions moot - there are more tangible benefits to be had from a workplace that is clean, safe, well-lighted and operated within the rules. It boils down to a more enjoyable work environment, higher productivity and, increasingly, a better bottom line.

Potential safety hazards are present throughout the processing phase. Workers sorting through recyclables find many inappropriately discarded items, such as hypodermic needles, gar-bage, sharps and, in rare instances, an ex-plosive device requiring system shutdown and facility evacuation.

Meanwhile, MRF equipment, whether a single unit or an integrated system, also can pose potential workplace hazards. Pay special attention when interfacing equipment that may have been de-signed to operate indepen- dently. Improper interfacing between a conveyor and a shredder may cause jamming or, worse, flying debris.

Inadequate storage also can be a source of hazards due to over-crowding. Debris littered on a platform can create unsure footing, resulting in falls, injury and lost time. Insufficient bale storage may cause workers to stack bales beyond safe limits. The weight of a falling bale could cause a serious injury or even death.

Throughout the materials recovery facility, care must be taken in everyday operations. Clean-up should be continuous to prevent debris, oil or grease build-up on floors or equipment. Aisles should be clearly delineated for safe movement of materials and personnel; all debris should be removed as soon as possible from these lanes.

A clear policy concerning lock-out/tag-out procedures must be in place and all personnel must be thoroughly familiar with the policy. A sufficient number of emergency stops, or E-stops, should be installed alongside all major equipment and at locations convenient to the lead sorter and other personnel on the line. Depending upon the location of the E-stop, the designer or operator may choose to halt the entire system, not just the equipment where the incident occurs.

If the MRF has a buy-back center, the public must be prevented from entering areas with collection trucks and processing equipment. The buy-back facilities should be completely separate and clearly marked with signs and directions. Cars and pedestrian traffic represent hazards that must be tightly controlled.

Similarly, if household hazardous waste is collected at the MRF, only approved containers should be used and the location should be remote from the processing facility. Personnel should be at the site while it's open to the public to ensure proper disposal and cleanliness and to prevent restricted materials from being dumped at the site.

Employees In The Know Clearly, a safe working environment requires a continuous effort which involves training em-ployees, as well as quality is-sues and up-front engineering and facility design. Most - if not all - of the major MRF operators have initiated formal safety programs. At Resource Recovery Systems, Essex, Conn., for example, the safety program is a key focus and the company has set a goal of "zero lost-time accidents," according to Liddy Karter, the company's vice president. Consequences for negligence or failing to report accidents can be severe, she said.

In addition, corporate policy mandates that all accidents be reported immediately. The company has a bonus program tied to productivity as well as safety. Any lost time due to negligence will affect the employee's bonus negatively. An employee who is consistently negligent may be terminated, Karter said.

Several years ago, the company had problems with its safety policy, according to Karter. Job safety was not taken seriously, she said. Con-sequently, the company's insurance rating reflected this attitude. Now, however, the company holds weekly safety meetings, conducts routine employee hearing tests and rotates sorting positions regularly. Floor sorting is frowned upon. Due to this proactive stance toward job safety, the company's insurance rates have dropped considerably, allowing it to be more competitive in the marketplace.

Interestingly, through discussions with its insurance company, Re-source Recovery discovered that its policy toward back braces was misguided. Company policy mandated that all employees engaged in lifting exercises wear one. The insurance company representative, however, explained that wearing the braces can give personnel the impression that they can lift any weight without adverse consequences. Rather than issuing back braces to everyone, a better safety precaution would be training personnel on how to pick up heavy items properly.

At FCR Inc., Charlotte, N.C., "Safe-ty is a No. 1 priority, along with production," said Joe Milici, manager of safety and maintenance. Monthly safety meetings and safety inspections involve all plant personnel. This procedure increases everybody's awareness of hazards and makes them just a bit more careful, according to Milici.

FCR's insurance company supports these efforts by attending the training seminars and by providing literature and videos on issues such as safety procedures, air pollution and noise control.

The company plans to incorporate incentives enhancing safety programs and improving productivity. To maintain a successful safety program, Milici said he believes all employees must develop a conscious, positive attitude about their job. For its part, the company must recognize that the expense is necessary and must be maintained, he said. In addition, Milici suspects that the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is targeting the recycling industry for regular inspections; an on-going safety program is the best defense against possible negative actions, he said.

Designing For Safety System design and engineering procedures also affect safety programs. Such seemingly mundane features as height of sorting conveyor belts, foot-rests for sorters, a belt width that eliminates excessive reach, conveyor belt speed and the location of commodity drop boxes also can significantly affect fatigue and performance. Increasingly, system design reflects ergonomic as well as structural or mechanical issues. The objective is to separate the person from the equipment as much as possible, while still maintaining productivity.

Currently, industry members are working to develop a safety standard for the owners, operators, designers and builders of material recovery facilties