Recycling can give you that nice, warm, fuzzy feeling like you’ve accomplished something positive, even if it is a simple act. As you deposit that can or bottle into the blue bin, it’s like you’re depositing a little goodwill into the universe. Your used container of food or liquid won’t end up wasting away for eternity at the dump yard, but turned into something new and usable at a recycling center. A win for everyone.
Or, so it would seem.
In fact, there is a darker side to recycling that doesn’t usually get talked about. Conditions for recycling workers are often dangerous and unsafe, putting them at risk for injury, illness, and even death.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 5% of all waste management employees were hurt or killed in work-related events, and over 300 recycling workers lost their lives on the job from 2003 to 2014. Many of these individuals worked in sorting plants, scrap yards, and oil recovery centers and were poorly trained in the use of heavy machinery, a skill often required for these jobs.
Making matters worse, many workers fear losing employment or facing disciplinary action if they report injuries or unsafe working conditions.
The law protects the health of workers and you have legal rights if you suffer a work-related injury or illness. The lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci focus on fighting for justice for workers who are hurt on the job and can recover the compensation you need to heal.
The Dirty Business of Recycling
Despite being a green industry, recycling involves dirty and labor-intensive work. Processing materials requires the use of heavy machinery – such as forklifts, loaders, cranes, conveyor belts, grinders, and shredders – all of which can pose serious jeopardy to operators, especially if they are not fully trained or the machinery is not properly serviced.
Recycling differs significantly from the manufacturing industry in that the recycling system cannot be completely systematized. Recyclable materials that come into a processing plant are of all shapes and sizes. This means workers must often personally handle much of the product as it passes through a facility. Workers may be exposed to toxins, explosives, sharp objects, or cancer-causing compounds.
Recycling also encompasses a variety of businesses from small drop-off centers in strip malls to sprawling scrapyards and massive sorting plants, where materials destined for export to foreign countries are separated. There are collection services, composting plants, and e-waste and oil recovery centers, too.
Some jobs in the recycling industry are among the most dangerous in the country. Often workers earn meager salaries and it is not uncommon for minimum wage requirements to be violated. Much recycling work is believed to be performed by workers who are not aware of their rights and who are taken advantage of by employers.
The Harm Recycling Workers Face
A recycling industry worker may lose a limb in machinery, break bones in a fall, be crushed by equipment, or hurt their back, neck, or shoulders by repeated use motions. These types of injuries are not isolated to the recycling industry and are somewhat common to any kind of physical labor job.
A particular hazard for recycling workers is exposure to hazardous materials, particularly at e-scrap and battery recycling facilities. For example, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have found workers at these plants with elevated levels of lead in their blood and on their skin.
Shockingly, hazardous materials exposure does not stop with the worker; their entire family can be put at risk.
Here in Ohio, high levels of lead in the blood of a young sister and brother were actually traced back to recycling work performed by their father. The former e-scrap recycling worker crushed cathode ray tubes without wearing protective gear and often came home with toxic dust in his hair and on his body.
Creating a Safer Recycling Culture
In the fall of 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. created an alliance to address hazards in the scrap recycling industry. Part of their mission will include promoting an understanding about workers’ rights and employers’ duties under law.
The lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci support measures like OSHA’s that protect the rights of workers and help enforce protocols that make working conditions safer.
We want everyone to enjoy a safe working environment as guaranteed by law. If you or a loved one have been injured or suffered an illness while at work – or suspect you have – please reach out to us today for a no-obligation consultation. We have decades of experience in getting justice and compensation for injured Ohio workers and their families.