The 5 Biggest Health & Safety Risks for Recycling Workers

The 5 Biggest Health & Safety Risks for Recycling Workers

Recycling workers are essential for protecting planet Earth, as they are responsible for waste reduction, which can positively impact the environment. Unfortunately, the essential duties can pose a risk to the health and wellbeing of recycling employees.

In fact, it has been reported that recycling workers are more than twice as likely to experience an injury at work in comparison to an average worker. Recycling companies must be committed to improving working conditions for all members of staff. To do so, learn more about the five biggest health and safety risks for recycling workers.

  1. Chemical or Biological Substance Exposure

Consumer ignorance or recycling misconceptions can increase recycling workers’ exposure to chemical or biological substance exposure. For example, employees’ health and safety could be risked if a separation system unknowingly features sharp objects (broken glass, wood shards, sharp metal, etc.), used hypodermic needles, biohazards (used diapers, disease pathogens, feces, etc.). The risks can also increase if recycling workers aim to reduce waste on a fast conveyor belt, or when attempting to meet material quotas.

  1. Heavy Materials or Moving Vehicles

Industrial vehicles are essential for transporting excess materials from one location to another. As a result, it’s possible for employees to be struck by a truck, forklift, or front-end loader. Heavy material bales may also affect a member of staff’s health and safety, as they could potentially seriously injure workers if unsecured or improperly stored. It is, therefore, vital to identify the potential occupational safety and health issues recycling companies can face. Find out more about the best OSH practices, technologies, and processes by attending the ASSE annual conference; for more information, check out their website at

  1. Respiratory Hazards

Both recyclable and waste materials can potentially generate a significant amount of dust, which can result in serious health consequences for recycling employees. You might be surprised to learn the airborne dust can contain microparticles from glass, plastic, toxic substances (asbestos or silica) and biohazards, plus more. Encountering animal feces, organic waste or rotting produce can also result in bioaerosols within the air, which can negatively impact a person’s health. It is vital all recycling employees are provided with masks and the rooms are well ventilated throughout the working day to reduce any health risks.

  1. Moving Machinery

General maintenance is essential for the smooth running of recycling equipment. For example, the machinery will need regular cleaning, tweaking, and servicing to ensure they remain in excellent condition. If there is a failure to implement lockout-tagout procedures for a service or unjam, an employee could potentially experience an amputation or crushing injury. All recycling companies must ensure lock and tag procedures are followed each day to ensure dangerous machinery is shut down and cannot be restarted before servicing has been completed.

Unfortunately, accidents commonly happen in various waste and recycling companies, as they often hire temporary workers to perform the essential tasks. Therefore, they are often less likely to be informed about processes, may receive fewer workplace protections, and will be less informed on their legal right to health and safety within their chosen workplace.

  1. Repetitive Strain Injuries

Waste and recyclable employees will need to reach, twist, stoop and jump to sort through materials on fast-moving conveyor belts, which may have fixed heights or widths. As sorters often need to bend forwards for many hours over time, and will perform the same repetitive motions, they may experience repetitive stress injuries of the hands, knees, back, shoulder, and fingers. It is essential employers do their utmost to prevent repetitive strain injuries from occurring in the workplace. For example, you should encourage all sorters to take regular breaks and perform relaxation exercises to prevent tension and stiffness, which could help to prevent repetitive strain injury.


Recycling is a critical service for protecting the environment, which is why it is essential to protect the health and wellbeing of every recycling employee each working day. At first glance, recycling roles might not seem to be a particularly dangerous career, but there are many hazards employees will face daily that can impact their personal safety.

It is, therefore, important to provide employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment and to implement the most efficient processes. In addition, companies must also provide every team member with both education and training to ensure onsite safety, and they should utilize proven prevention procedures to reduce or eliminate exposure to hazardous airborne contaminants, materials, and conditions, which can avoid serious or fatal illnesses or injuries.