Nov-Dec recycling and waste management blitz: converting risk into opportunity for all employers

Oct 16, 2013

Waste managementA two-month Ministry of Labour inspection blitz of recycling and waste management facilities may set off alarm bells for some, but for others it could signal an opportunity to boost health, safety and organizational performance. Even if this blitz doesn't include your workplace, there's much here that you can put to your advantage.

"Handling waste can expose workers to a surprising number of hazards," says Workplace Safety & Prevention Services key account manager Jennifer MacFarlane. "And not just people working at recycling and waste management facilities. Most businesses produce waste of some sort, and even if your business contracts out recycling and waste treatment, you may still have workers exposed to waste-related hazards in your workplace. Taking a proactive approach to managing these hazards will better protect workers, but also reduce property loss, ensure business continuity, and help you remain competitive."

According to Vivien Wharton-Szatan, provincial coordinator of the Ministry of Labour's Industrial Health and Safety Program, "recycling and waste management is a very complex sector because of its breadth and depth. From a safety perspective alone, these operations involve interactions between vehicles and pedestrians, material handling, including lifting and lifting devices, lighting, housekeeping practices..."

The sector's also growing, in more ways than one. Under the provincial government's green initiative, employers have more opportunities to reuse and reprocess waste. At the same time, the number of injuries is rising. From 2010 to 2011, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board recorded a 12% increase in accepted lost-time injury claims related to recycling and waste management. Hence, the province's interest in waste-related injury prevention practices.

7 hazards inspectors will be looking for

The complex nature of recycling and waste management health and safety is evident in the significant number of hazards that inspectors will be watching for, says Vivien Wharton-Szatan. These hazards could also exist in handling and dispensing activities prior to recycling and waste pick-up:

  • pedestrian traffic
  • cranes and other lifting devices
  • musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  • slips, trips and falls
  • motor vehicle incidents
  • mobile material handling equipment
  • occupational disease (e.g., resulting from exposure to biohazards, noise, silica, asbestos, and dust).

"What's particularly challenging about waste hazards," says WSPS's Jennifer MacFarlane, "is the 'unknown' factor in terms of what workers may be dealing with. This applies to businesses collecting, transporting and processing waste, but also to businesses generating waste. Waste generators tend to focus their prevention efforts on their upstream processes and activities, especially if they contract out recycling and waste collection."

What this means for all workplaces

MacFarlane offers two perspectives:

  1. Applying a managed system approach is more productive and efficient than addressing hazards one by one. "It's a business imperative for any operation to have a health and safety management system," says MacFarlane. "Integrating health and safety solutions into your existing business practices promotes worker health and well-being, saves money and sustains organizational performance. Follow the lead of successful waste management service providers. They've already recognized the benefits of having an integrated health, safety and environmental management system."
  2. "Just because you contract a service out, doesn't mean you contract out the risk." MacFarlane has four suggestions for businesses that contract out recycling and waste management:
    • include recycling and waste handling, dispensing and pick-up in your hazard identification and assessment process
    • build the results into your overall health, safety and environmental management system
    • ensure supervisors and workers have the training they need to understand the identified hazards and manage them safely
    • deal with established recycling and waste management service providers. "The next time you issue an RFP, ask for information on the service providers' health, safety and environmental programs," says MacFarlane. "If anything raises red flags, dig deeper. It's in the best interests of businesses to mitigate risk. If an employee of a contracted service provider sustains an injury on your site, your business could be become involved in a Ministry of Labour investigation, or could be facing shared costs for compensation insurance or third party insurance claims."

Advice from a service provider

Cindy Wilkins is Director Environmental, Health and Safety - Canadian Branches for Safety-Kleen, which provides environmental services, including collecting, processing, re-refining, recycling and disposing of hazardous and non-hazardous materials. She suggests that businesses ask current or prospective recycling and waste management service providers about

  • what value they can add to your own onsite waste management. "Safety-Kleen has professional environmental, health and safety staff, who look after our own internal employees but are also available to work with customers. We can offer guidance to our customers on their compliance with health, safety, fire code and environmental requirements."

  • additional services, especially if you're a medium to small business that may not have a dedicated environmental person on staff. "For instance, does the service provider have any suggestions on how to properly manage waste material within your operation both from an environmental perspective but also in terms of health and safety? Are they able to provide safe alternatives, such as alternative chemistries in parts washer equipment?" Safety-Kleen is a service supplier for parts washing equipment, and supplies two types of parts washing solvent: petroleum-based and aqueous based. "We recently changed the formulation of our petroleum based solvent which increased the flashpoint, making the solvent less volatile and easier and safer to handle. Safety-Kleen is also able to provide an aqueous based solution, which eliminates the issue of flammability and VOC emissions."

How WSPS can help

To help businesses achieve the highest standards of safety and productivity, WSPS provides a wide selection of

  • online resources including specific hazard guidelines, checklists and management tools. Many can be downloaded at no cost. Find these resources by topic and hazard.
  • training based on real workplace situations and delivered by health and safety experts. Formats include instructor-led, self-paced and online courses.
  • consulting services. WSPS specialists and consultants work in partnership to identify and assess customer needs and facilitate practical solutions that deliver lasting results. Services include:
    • hazard assessments, reports and recommendations
    • health and safety program and procedures
    • awareness presentations on specific topics
    • onsite consulting and training
    • technical consulting (occupational hygiene, ergonomics and safeguarding).