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Bringing improved safety practices to one of the deadliest jobs in the US.


Risk Consulting Associate, Property & Casualty Environmental

In 2019, the sixth deadliest occupation in the US was that of refuse and recyclable material collectors. Illness and injury rates for landfills over the past decade averaged 5.1 cases per 100 full-time employees.

Landfills and material recycling facilities (MRFs) teem with safety challenges that pose risks to employees and site visitors. From overexertion and exposure to contaminants to falls and transportation incidents, employees can be subjected to numerous hazards while on the job. Is your safety plan addressing your site-specific health and safety concerns?

Hazards up close
While hazards vary significantly depending on location, some hazards are prevalent at most sites. They include:

  • Vehicle hazards: Workers working in or around heavy equipment and vehicles face being struck or crushed.
  • Hazardous materials exposure: Landfills and MRFs often receive flammables, corrosives and other reactive materials in incoming waste. Workers could come in contact with biological or radioactive substances, medical sharps, asbestos, lead, compressed gases, and other hazardous materials that could be present.
  • Construction hazards: Landfill cell expansion means conditions similar to a construction site exist on the worksite. Workers could be exposed to trench collapse, falls from high locations, confined space risks, heavy equipment accidents, and physical stress.
  • Physical strain and overexertion injuries: Workers are at risk of overexertion due to lifting, material handling, digging, and other strenuous activity.

Making worksites safer
Fortunately, many debilitating worker injuries can be avoided. Operators should devise and implement a detailed, site-specific health and safety plan that addresses the unique exposures at their site. That, combined with employee training and enforcement of safety protocols, can significantly improve the wellbeing of the workforce.

A sound safety program should address the following:

Traffic control: One-way traffic patterns, blind corner eliminations, traffic mirrors and directional signs can improve pedestrian and vehicle safety. Roads should be designed for heavy equipment and vehicles, and should be well maintained. Post speed limits, and establish safe clearances that allow for at least one vehicle width between vehicles.

Pedestrian/worker control: Wear reflective clothing, limit site access and designate pedestrian pathways that are away from equipment areas. Drivers should remain with vehicles at all times and communicate via radio or hand signals. Vehicle cameras can improve driver awareness.

Hazardous material protection: Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided and worn as appropriate. Workers should not work in dusty environments for prolonged periods. When possible, use dust suppression techniques and consider whether respiratory protection is needed. Manage rodent and animal-borne diseases by maintaining good housekeeping and requiring handwashing before eating, drinking, or smoking.

Heavy equipment training: Only trained operators should be allowed to operate equipment. Site workers should also be trained in safety measures around heavy equipment. Equipment should be cleaned and maintained daily.

Fall prevention: To avoid falls, move all work to ground level when possible. Employees should be trained on fall protection measures.
Strain and overexertion prevention: When possible, use forklifts and conveyors to lift and move materials. If manual lifting is necessary, train employees in proper lifting techniques, and require them to seek help when lifting heavy or awkward objects.

Confined space protocols: Identify permit-required confined spaces, and have written entry programs for each. Make use of lock-out tag-out, engineering controls, and PPE. Train employees on recognizing confined spaces and hazards. Monitor air quality at all times.

Biohazards awareness training: Employees must understand how to identify and handle biohazards. Treat all biohazards as contaminated and implement appropriate controls such as PPE use.

Emergency plan/training: Plan for potential emergencies. Include a diagram of the facility, locations of various hazardous materials, evacuation routes/assembly points, and emergency equipment location. Train employees in handling emergencies, including reporting and chain of command.

Landfills and materials recycling facilities can be made into safer environments for employees. By assessing potential hazards, developing comprehensive safety plans and training, and effectively managing safety plans and protocols, you can keep your facility operating safely and efficiently, and improve worker safety.

To learn more, download our most recent Environmental Risk Bulletin, Landfill and Material Recycling Facilities: Safety and Best Management Practices

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