The health hazards concerning waste management and recycling include skin contact, injection, ingestion and inhalation. Occupational diseases which can be attributed to working in the waste industry include dermatitis, skin cancer, microorganisms invading the body and blood borne viruses. Employers and managers of waste management/recycling firms have a duty to protect their employees from exposure to harmful substances. The Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) contain the relevant legal requirements. Risk assessments must be carried out to ensure harmful exposure to waste is not encountered by employees. Employers must consider the work tasks of their employees and also how this can affect others working around them. There is a simple step by step process for how employers can find out more about their worker’s exposure to hazardous substances.

  1. Finding out what the health hazards are from the microorganisms and harmful substances
  2. Singling out who might be harmed
  3. Finding out how harm can be prevented?
  4. Putting in place appropriate control measures?
  5. Making sure those control measures are used
  6. Monitoring and reviewing the risk assessment regularly

New recruits, trainees and young people are particularly susceptible to working in this kind of environment and extra measures must be in place to protect them from the start. All workers need to be retrained and informed as appropriate.

Personal protective equipment is critical when working with waste/recycling. Clothing should include safety boots, cut resistant trousers, gloves, safety goggles, plastic aprons/bodysuits, and ventilation masks. A respiratory apparatus may be needed in some situations. On mobile trucks there should be hand wash basins and or hand wipes/gels. There should be emergency decontamination and emergency arrangements in place. Contamination could occur from split bags, contact with animal and human waste or contact with chemicals. There should be a readily available supply of clean water and the identification of local welfare facilities. Facilities and equipment should be kept sufficiently stocked and in good working order. Strong cleaners should be avoided as these could cause dermatitis. There should be first aid facilities on collection vehicles. As a minimum there should be a suitably appointed first aid box and an appointed person to take care of first aid arrangements. A health surveillance may be a legal requirement if a person is exposed to biological agents, solvents, dusts and fumes. Specific occupational diseases must be reported to RIDDOR.

How one should protect themselves when working in waste management depends on the nature and types of materials being collected, the levels of containment (e.g bags, wheelie bins), the routes of exposure and whether it is urban or rural. WISH (The Waste Industry Safety and Health) is a forum made up of organisations and representative involved in broadly representing the waste management industry. It has representatives from HSE. Its aim is to provide information and identify solutions for those working in the waste industry and those affected by its activities. WISH endorsed guidance on available on the HSE website.


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