Workers at Recycling Plants Face a Higher Risk of Accidents

Workers at Recycling Plants Face a Higher Risk of Accidents

Recycling is a major industry in the US today, with thousands of workers engaged in the processing of recyclable materials in mechanized recycling facilities. While the recycling activity is essential for the environment and the economy, it can be dangerous for workers.

Common Risks that Recycling Workers Face

Recycling plants pose some injury risks for workers. Numerous health and safety agencies have conducted research studies to assess the common on-the-job injuries sustained by workers at recycling plants. Some of these injuries include:

  • Getting caught between moving machinery
  • Hand or finger amputation or lacerations due to sharp blades
  • Knee injuries
  • Back injuries
  • Struck by needles
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Getting hit by vehicles or objects
  • Heat-related injuries due to working in extreme temperatures
  • Prolonged work in ergonomically poor positions
  • Exposure to hazardous dust, chemicals, and materials

High Injury Rates at US Recycling Plants

In 2015, the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois published a research report, Safe and Sustainable Recycling, which revealed that workers at recycling plants across the US are twice as likely to sustain workplace injuries compared to other laborers.

The injury rate of recycling industry workers was estimated to be 8.5 per 100 workers, while the national average was 3.5 per 100 workers.

Even when compared to other similar industries (like waste management), the injury rate for workers at recycling plants was significantly higher. The report also showed that between 2011 and 2013, as many as 17 workers at recycling plants were involved in fatal accidents.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has emphasized that recycling is a vital endeavor, but it must be performed the right way. This involves empowering and educating recycling workers and implementing scientifically proven risk mitigation strategies that will minimize the exposure of workers to hazardous conditions in recycling plants.

Important Findings from the Research Report

  • The high rate of injuries and fatalities in the recycling industry is a reality because of unsafe working conditions and a lack of worker training to operate heavy recycling machinery.
  • Workers in the recycling industry are often exposed to hazardous products on the sort line, which could include toxic chemicals, hypodermic needles, and animal carcasses.
  • A large number of recycling and waste companies have over-dependence on temporary workers to cut their costs. These workers often have fewer legal protections and have a lower chance of being well-informed about their constitutional right to operate in a healthy and safe workplace.

A spokesperson of Partnership for Working Families, one of the contributors to the report, said that a few cities in the US have figured out ways to achieve higher rates of recycling to save the environment and create safer jobs at the same time. But it is now time to extend this commitment to more cities and all stages of the recycling value chain, beginning with the sorting facilities.

Another report contributor said that to solve problems of the environment through recycling, it is critical to invest in safeguarding the lives of workers operating in hazardous conditions in the recycling industry.

Watch YouTube Video: Occupational Training Center of Burlington County Recycling Program. This video provides a close look at a recycling operation in Burlington County from start to finish.

Machine Accident Lawyers in Sacramento

I’m Ed Smith, a machine accident lawyer in Sacramento. Recycling is good for the environment but can be unsafe for workers. If you or someone you know has been hurt in the workplace, call me for a free consultation at 916-584-9355.

Since 1982, I’ve assisted many Sacramento residents and other Northern Californians in receiving the compensation they need in wrongful death and personal injury cases.

I am a member of the Million Dollar Advocates.

Photo by MartinStadlober on

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