As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S. and other parts of the globe, it’s important that members of the waste and recycling industry take the necessary safety precautions before, during and after each shift.
From wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), to practicing social distancing, to using the right sanitation products to clean surfaces, gear and equipment, these recommended COVID-19 work practices can help workers stay safe on the job.
To relay this important information to the industry, the National Waste & Recycling Association held a webinar on March 30. The webinar featured Dave Malter, president of Malter Associates, Inc. and highlighted the steps workers can take to better prevent potential infection and spread. Here’s a recap of the webinar.
During the webinar, Malter highlighted some useful and important information to help keep waste and recycling workers safe on the job during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a recap of his insights.
NWRA’s COVID-19 Guidance on Safe Handling of Waste
On March 19, NWRA’s Healthcare Waste Institute published its latest document, COVID-2019 FAQs, to address safe handling of waste during the COVID-19 outbreak. And on March 30, during the webinar, Malter explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have not issued specific guidelines for the handling of waste and recycling materials related to COVID-19, so NWRA’s guidance can be followed as a best practice.
“The guidance is not legal advice, and it’s not a regulatory recommendation. It’s a best practice created by those who have looked at the general materials [from CDC and OSHA regarding COVID-19] and provided guidance [to the industry],” he said.
The document aims to provide answers and guidance to commonly asked questions from NWRA member companies that do not routinely collect or process regulated medical waste. Some of the guidance provided focuses on how to properly sanitize surfaces, how to handle waste that is or could be contaminated and what precautions should be taken to stay safe on the job.
To properly sanitize surfaces, workers should refer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of registered antimicrobial products for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Workers should be aware of the time period that each product takes to be effective, and they should minimize clutter to avoid contamination accumulation.
Waste materials that are or could be contaminated don’t require any special precautions and can be managed as they typically would for the flu, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization.
To stay safe on the job, workers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as puncture-resistant gloves and face/eye protection to prevent exposure. Additionally, they should properly wash and disinfect their hands multiple times per day; avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth; and use engineering and administrative controls such as automated or semiautomated collection and social distancing.
Precautions to Take Based on Job Type
Safety precautions vary based on job type, and to ensure workers know which precautions apply to their role, Malter broke down the precautions into four job categories: management; technicians; dispatch and scale house operators; and drivers, helpers, sorters and post-collection operators.
Management: Management should reiterate CDC guidelines and help ensure that workers are following proper safety precautions. Management can enforce smaller safety meeting sizes (no more than 10 people in each meeting) and stagger start, break and stop times to maintain a safe distance between employees. Additionally, management can increase the frequency of cleaning efforts, ensure sanitation products are stocked and encourage employees who don’t feel well to stay home and contact their healthcare provider.
Technicians: Prior to servicing a vehicle, technicians should sanitize commonly touched items like the steering wheel, door handle and automated joystick. Technicians also should wear disposable gloves or gloves that can be washed daily at all times, washing and sanitizing their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after each use as well as after using shared tools.
Dispatch and scale house operators: Dispatch and scale house operators should clean and disinfect their hands hourly; use radio-based communication to relay information; avoid sharing pens, pencils, phones, etc., with others; sanitize their hands after handling items like keys, phones, clipboards, etc.; and, based on personal preference not OHSA guidelines, wear disposable gloves or gloves that can be washed daily.
Drivers, helpers, sorters and post-collection operators: At the beginning and end of each shift, these workers should sanitize heavy equipment and commonly touched items in the truck like the steering wheel, door handle and automated joystick. They also should avoid human contact during work arrival and departure, breaks and routes; sanitize their hands before and after using the fueling station; sanitize surfaces they have touched; increase sanitization frequency to three times per day when working in groups; and properly use all provided PPE.