Recycling Industry Experiences Decline In On-The-Job Injuries, Though More Work Needed

According to the recently-released United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2016 Workplace Injury and Illness Data report, while overall injury rates for the waste management and remediation sectors are on the decline, material recovery facility (MRF) and landfill workers experienced a higher incidence of on-the-job injuries and work-related illnesses than in 2015.


In the sector as a whole, the total documented cases of workplace injury and illness fell from 4.5 per 100 full-time workers in 2015 and 5.1 in 2014, to 4.0 in 2016. The private industry faired even better, recording 2.9 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2016, a decrease from 3.0 and 3.2 in 2015 and 2014, respectively. For specific waste and recycling industries, however, injury rates varied:


  • Solid waste collection employee injuries fell to 5.2 in 2016, down from 6.6 in 2015 and 7.1 in 2014.
  • Solid waste combustor and incinerator worker injuries also fell, from 2.0 in 2015 and 3.4 in 2014 to 1.0 in 2016.
  • Landfill workers experienced a greater number of injuries in 2016, returning to 2014 levels at 4.9 per 100 full-time works, up from 3.5 in 2015.
  • MRF workers were also at greater risk of injury, experiencing a six percent rate in 2016, up from 5.1 in 2015, but lower than the 2014 rate of 8.4.


Both the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), the two main associations for the recycling industry, remain optimistic about the overall decline in workplace injuries for the sector, but admit more work needs to be done to improve working conditions for MRF and landfill workers.


David Biderman, the SWANA executive director and CEO, says the overall improvement in workplace safety is “not an opportunity for the industry to rest on its laurels and do a victory lap. We all need to recommit to make a safe working environment a top priority.”


Incidences of primary concern are injuries requiring time off as they are generally more serious than injuries that don’t. MRF workers face the greatest risk of serious injury requiring time off, restricted work, or job transfer: serious injury occurs at a rate of 4.5 per 100 full-time MRF workers, which is well above the waste management and remediation sector rate of 2.6.


This comes as no surprise as recycling workers are often exposed to a greater number of risks, including exposure to biohazardous substances and harmful chemicals, heavy machinery and material bales, industrial equipment, respiratory hazards, and awkward or repetitive motions.


Though increasing use of automation has prevented some injuries, SWANA and the NWRA continue to work to push further safety initiatives and provide additional resources to both the public and private waste and recycling sectors.


If you own or operate a material recovery facility or run a business recycling program and would like to mitigate the risks posed to your waste and recycling workers, contact our experts at Berg Mill Supply! We offer value-added consulting services to optimize your recycling operations. We will also handle and sell your recyclables if you’d like to focus on your core business operations instead.