The job of a sanitation worker is tough. Waste workers stick their hands into piles of garbage, trash, and junk every day to make good on the hierarchy that rules the waste management industry: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Workers in the waste and recycling industry face many occupational health risks and hazards. The most significant risks are punctures, cuts, lacerations, and abrasions using specialized knives and other tools to sort trash. Workers are also likely to encounter the sharp edges of broken materials and hypodermic needles that haven't been disposed of properly.
Sharp objects are lurking everywhere in the trash.
In addition to their previous safety precautions, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide guidance and recommendations for solid waste and wastewater management workers at increased risk of occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2. OSHA considers workers who handle waste from healthcare facilities generated in the care of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are at a medium exposure risk and should continue to use routine controls for treating any type of medical waste - not just that of COVID-19 patients.
Taking it one step further, in early May, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) asked Congress to provide 250,000 units of PPE for the industry in the next coronavirus relief package. Why would the industry request such a large PPE need? Waste management and recycling is a job where workers face a constant threat of workplace hazards. Add in a pandemic, and you've got the perfect storm for workers getting injured.
Let's waste no time here – this article is all about waste management, safety, and PPE.
What Is Waste Management?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines Waste Management and Remediation Services as the collection, treatment, and disposal of waste materials. It includes a multitude of different functions:
- local hauling of waste materials
- solid waste management, which includes residential, commercial, and industrial sites
- sorting recyclable materials from the trash stream at material recovery facilities
- providing for the cleanup of contaminated buildings, mine sites, soil, or groundwater (known as remediation)
- providing septic pumping and other miscellaneous waste management services
Waste management is also a process that involves treating solid and liquid waste and recycling items that aren't categorized as trash. This allows people to reuse certain types of "garbage" as a valuable resource, which helps our environment stay vital.
Careers and Jobs
The BLS projects that by 2026, the number of "refuse and recyclable material collectors" jobs will increase by 13 percent, amounting to an estimated 17,700 new jobs.
Waste360, an event, commerce, and education provider to the waste management industry and host of WasteExpo, annually ranks the top 100 waste management companies in the United States, which include Clean Harbors, Waste Management, and Republic Waste Management, Inc.
Here are some of the most plentiful jobs in this industry:
- Material Handler: 112,840 workers - are responsible for storing, moving, and handling hazardous and non-hazardous materials. Extensive on-the-job training is required in place of formal education. May require completion of government training and hazardous materials handling license. Other requirements might include a commercial driver's license (CDL).
- Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors: 75,050 workers – are responsible for gathering garbage and recyclables from homes and businesses for transport to a dump, landfill, or recycling center. Collectors may be required to lift garbage cans by hand and empty them into the truck, use a hydraulic lift to empty the contents of a dumpster into the truck.
- Hazardous Material Removal Workers: 45,900 workers – are responsible for identifying, removing, packing, transporting, or disposing of hazardous materials, including asbestos, lead-based paint, waste oil, fuel, transmission fluid, radioactive materials, or contaminated soil. Specialized training and certification in hazardous materials handling or a confined entry permit are generally required. May operate earth-moving equipment or trucks.
Lead abatement involves numerous hazards.
- Septic Tank Servicers and Sewer Pipe Cleaners: 17,890 workers – responsible for cleaning and repairing septic tanks, sewer lines, drains, catch basins, maintenance holes, and culverts. Much of the work is underground and requires digging to pipes, cutting out and replacing damaged pipes, and re-covering the area.
Septic Tank Cleaning
According to the most recent data from the BLS, released in 2019, injuries and illnesses for waste and recycling collection workers increased to 5.5 incidents per 100 full-time employees in 2018, nearly double the national rate of 2.8 for other occupations. Specifically, solid waste collection workers saw an increase from 5.1 to 5.9. Injured or ill workers cited "sprains, strains and tears" most often as causes, resulting in a median 13 days away from the job.
With the increase in injury and illness rates in the collection sector, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) point to ongoing concerns about route safety, given the inherent, unpredictable hazards of continually picking up carts, bags, and other garbage containers. Here is a quick look at some of the hazards workers face:
- Safety on the roads - Dealing with distracted drivers and driving in unsafe conditions, including poor visibility on roads and highways, are dangers that are always on the minds of waste management workers.
- Chemicals - Waste management workers must deal with hazardous waste from chemical recycling, including toxic, reactive, ignitable, and corrosive materials. Medical waste, specifically, whether general, infectious, or radioactive, poses unique hazards for workers.
- Cuts and lacerations – The potential to come into contact with sharp waste, including hypodermic needles, syringes, IV tubing with needles attached, scalpel blades, and used lancets if not disposed of properly, cause concern over potential puncture wounds for workers who sort trash for recycling. For those who face needle hazards, your standard needlestick glove will not suffice. You'll need to look at our ML300A.
Also, OSHA highlights that hazards found at waste sites are similar to those found at construction sites. Handling materials, cutting metal, and welding are everyday activities waste management workers perform. Our Construction industry page may be an additional resource for you to consider.
Body Armor: Aprons and A9 Cut Gloves
Some industries, including waste management, expose workers to a higher risk of cuts and lacerations. Occupations like refuse and recyclable material collectors require extreme cut-resistant PPE, the highest-rated personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of cuts, punctures, and lacerations.
Thankfully, there is guidance to help the user choose appropriate PPE. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has a nine-point scale for cut-resistant PPE. The higher the number, the better the cut resistance, with A9 being the highest: 6,000+ grams. MCR Safety offers several ANSI A9-rated sleeves, aprons, and gloves that provide extreme cut protection even in the most dangerous industries.
- A9 Cut-Resistant Sleeves - The 9-inch 93709MK and the 19-inch 93719MK ambidextrous sleeves provide the highest possible A9 cut protection for arms and forearms. These highly cut-resistant sleeves also offer cut protection, puncture protection, and heat resistance.
9-inch and 19-inch Sleeves
- A9 Cut-Resistant Apron - The 93130MK apron provides extreme cut protection for the torso. Easily adjustable for multiple sizes, this apron delivers the next level of overall cut protection.
MCR Safety's A9 sleeves and aprons are made in a modacrylic/Kevlar® blend and are also rated ANSI Puncture Level 3 and ANSI Contact Heat Level 5.
- A9 Cut-Resistant Gloves - MCR Safety offers several A9-rated gloves, including the PD2905A, 92735N, and 9381. All of our gloves combine the best cut protection possible with maximum comfort and superior dexterity. If you want your workers to wear their gloves, instead of leaving them in the locker room, we have glove options that meet your needs.
Other PPE to Consider Wearing
Chemical-Resistant Gloves – Liquid waste is an absolute concern for waste collection workers. Our chemical permeation database provides specific breakthrough times for our gloves when exposed to various chemicals. Our entire glove catalog can be found here.
MG9645 and 6620KV provide both liquid and cut protection.
Safety Glasses – Whether you need safety goggles to protect against chemical exposure or are just looking for a nice pair of ANSI Z87 rated shades, we've got over 700 options to keep your eyes protected.
Our SR3, SR4, and SR5 safety glasses are the latest models.
Hi-Vis – As we highlighted above, waste management workers are active around busy roads. Staying seen is of critical importance, which means our lineup of protective garments is essential. Guess what? We're now taking the trash they collect and turning it into the protection they require. Our new RVCL2MOZ and RVCL2MLZ vests are made from recycled water bottles.
RVCL2MOZ and RVCL2MLZ
Lastly, we have developed tools to help you find the most appropriate cut- and puncture-resistant gloves. Using the MCR Safety Glove Material Search by CE/ANSI Score, you are one step closer to selecting the right cut-resistant glove for your needs.
What are the "three R's" of waste management?
- Developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," and are also called the "waste hierarchy." All three are the top three actions we can all take to improve waste management programs throughout the United States and contribute to a more sustainable life.
What are the goals of waste management?
- According to the EPA, the main goal of waste management is to reduce disposable waste and preserve valuable, limited landfill space.
What is solid-waste management?
- Solid-waste management is defined as the proper collection, treatment, and disposal of discarded solid material that is no longer useful to avoid creating unsanitary conditions, environmental pollution, and outbreaks of disease spread by rodents and insects.
What does waste management recycle?
- Waste management companies recycle industrial waste, such as cardboard packaging, glass, lumber, rubber tires, and some metals. Recycled consumer waste is often collected curbside and includes newspapers, magazines, glass bottles, rigid plastic products, and metal containers, including tin, aluminum, and steel cans. E-waste or electronic waste is discarded electrical or electronic devices such as computers, of which some parts can be recycled. Some polymer chemicals can be reverted to monomers and recycled that way. Non-recyclable items include food waste, food-tainted paper plates, light bulbs, dishes, windows, mirrors, and plastic wrap.
What does waste management do with trash?
- According to Waste Management, they collect trash and manage them in numerous ways. Here are some:
- dispose of it safely
- recycle paper, plastics, glass, and metals for a variety of new uses
- burn it to generate green energy
- use gas from the decomposition of trash in landfills as a renewable energy source
How much is waste management a month?
- Costs vary depending on where you live. However, the average garbage bill ranges between $8 and $12 per month.
No Wasted Protection
For those working around the extreme hazards of waste management, where cut and puncture injuries are likely to occur, MCR Safety has a full lineup of PPE designed to provide the safety you and your workers need.
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For over 45 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a world leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it's on the shop floor, an oil rig, or a construction site, we are there to provide solutions to workplace hazards. It's all part of our commitment to protect people.
No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
Learn more about MCR Safety by checking out our most recent video. For more information, browse our website, request a catalog, find a distributor, or give us a call at (800) 955-6887.