Recycling Hazards

Workers in the recycling industry are more than twice as likely to be injured at work as the average worker, according to a new report released this week. The report, Safe & Sustainable Recycling: Protecting Workers who Protect the Planet, cites 17 recent fatalities among recycling workers, including the death of a worker in Florida last week.

The vulnerability of recycling workers to high injury and fatality rates is a result of unsafe working conditions around heavy machinery and exposure to hazardous items such as toxic chemicals, hypodermic needles, and animal carcasses. In addition, many recycling companies rely heavily on temporary workers, who have fewer workplace protections and are less aware of their workplace rights.

“Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” according to Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a Public Welfare Foundation grantee. “That means educating and empowering recycling workers, and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions.”

Many of those hazardous conditions could be avoided if city governments would evaluate the health and safety records of recycling companies more thoroughly and require the companies to have comprehensive worker safety programs; cities would better educate residents on separating household waste to reduce the amount of dangerous contaminants that enter the recycling stream, and companies would stop using temporary workers.

Other Public Welfare Foundation grantees who contributed to the report include the Partnership for Working Families, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.


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