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Study: Recycling Workers Face High Injury Risks

Workers who protect our planet by doing the heavy lifting required for recycling face a high risk of unnecessary injury and death, according to a new report by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH).

NY Personal Injury Lawyers

Legal rights of workersAdditionally, many workers who are injured may not understand their legal rights, including the right to pursue a third-party liability claim that may provide a recovery for their injuries that goes beyond workers’ compensation benefits.

Recycling industryThe recycling industry has high injury and fatality rates due to unsafe working conditions, conclude the researchers behind the report, “Safe & Sustainable Recycling: Protecting Workers Who Protect the Planet.”

Reuse recycleAbout 21,000 workers nationwide process recyclable materials that have been collected by city or private waste collection crews, according to COSH.

Recycling workers engage in repetitive motions in awkward positions, face exposure to extreme heat and cold and frequently come into contact with heavy machinery and moving vehicles, the report states. These workers also face the risk of injury due to the unpredictable nature of the materials that come into recycling facilities.

Job Site Hazards for Recycling Workers

ForkliftEquipment HazardsEarthEnvironment
Massive conveyor beltsDusty facilities
BalersLoud noises
ForkliftsExtreme temperatures
Front-end loaders


RadioactiveAdditional HazardsWork RequirementsWork Requirements
Heavy bales of materialLong hours
FallsRepetitive tasks
Dropped materials and objectsClimbing
Used syringes (needles)Leaning over
Dead animalsPulling
Broken glassLifting

The report states that many waste and recycling companies rely heavily on temporary workers, who have fewer workplace protections and are less likely to be informed of their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Citing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records, the report states that 17 workers were killed on the job at recycling plants between 2011 and 2013. These fatal accidents included being struck by moving vehicles, being caught or crushed in balers and other heavy machinery, being crushed by falling bales and being buried under tons of materials.

Recycling plant workers also are injured on the job at rates that are higher than the average for all waste management and remediation services – and much higher than the rate for all other industries.

Municipalities Urged to Protect Recycling Workers

It doesn’t have to be this way, according to Mary Vogel, the executive director of COSH.

Recycling is the right thing to do.“Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” Vogel recently told EHS Today. “That means educating and empowering recycling workers and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions. That’s how we can avoid tragedies[.]”

Recycling is important. It is a key component of local climate protection plans here in New York State and across the country. It can also be a catalyst for economic development. However, equally important is the need to improve health and safety conditions for recycling workers.

Occupational hazards can be mitigated, and in some cases eliminated, with a combination of engineering controls, safety systems, work practices and training.

ReportThe 19-page report, which contains several case studies of accidents and catastrophic injuries as well as the “Top Nine Hazards that Recycling Workers Face,” puts the onus on municipalities to insist on changes as they renew contracts, franchises and leases with recycling companies.

Examples of Recycling Center Accidents and Injuries

The COSH report recommends that municipalities evaluate potential contractors based on their health and safety practices and require them to submit written illness and injury prevention programs.

Municipalities should also prohibit the use of temporary and contingent workers or require that “a host, or principal employer, be considered a joint employer for purposes of compliance with all applicable workplace laws, including those relating to health and safety.”

Further, COSH says, municipalities should “require that all on-site employees within any job classification receive the same wages and benefits, training and safety supervision.”


Injured Recycling Workers Have a Right to Seek Compensation

It is unlikely that all of the risks inherent in recycling work can be eliminated. But we agree with the researchers who wrote this report that training, education, implementation of better work practices and fair treatment of workers will give those who do these necessary jobs a fighting chance at staying safe.

training, education, implementation

Employees at recycling centers in Albany, Syracuse and elsewhere in New York State may have a right to seek workers’ compensation benefits if and when they are injured or become ill because of job hazards.

However, if the employee has been injured by the negligence of a non-employer, non-co-worker, the employee may also have the right to pursue a third-party liability claim.

Workers’ compensation benefits should pay for all medical expenses, but they replace only a portion of an injured worker’s lost wages.

In contrast to a workers’ compensation claim, the worker must establish the fault of another party in a third-party liability claim. However, if a third-party liability claim is successful, the worker could – in contrast to a workers’ compensation claim – recover the full amount of lost wages and seek other damages such as pain and suffering.

If you or a loved one of yours has been injured or killed while working at a recycling plant or anywhere in New York State, contact the personal injury lawyers at Powers & Santola, LLP, as soon as possible for a free discussion of your rights to financial compensation.

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