The Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Injured Recycling Plant Workers
Recycling items back to the manufacturer is labor-intensive. The process begins gathering materials and depositing them at a collection site, recycling center or a pickup at the resident or company's curbside. Once the items are collected, the recyclable material is transferred to the recycling plant where workers sort and process items that move along conveyor belts. Recycled pickers then redistribute the items into groups include glass, plastic, metal, aluminum, paper, rubber, and others.
Most major metropolitan areas operate the recycling system on a single-stream process were various types of recyclables are collected as a single group which is then sorted at the processing plant. Recycling Plant workers usually stand along a conveyor belt while sorting the waste material that cannot be recycled. At new recycling plants, workers use innovative automated equipment to sort the recyclable material into the appropriate group quickly.
In addition to recycling plant workers, the recycling company also hires technicians and mechanics to operate and monitor the machines required to sort and baled recyclables. The baled material will then be shipped to other companies nationwide who will reprocess the product and formulate the item into something new.
Maintenance workers, technicians, and mechanics are required to maintain recycling trucks and equipment. These workers must run inspections and perform diagnostic testing on equipment at the plant and the recycle trucks to make sure the recycling operation runs smoothly.
In recent years, the recycling industry has grown significantly in creating new job opportunities for workers to collect, sort and process nearly every type of recyclable material. However, as this increase in the number of employed recycling plant workers has grown, the numbers of Worker Susceptible to common hazards and dangers involved in the recycling process has also heightened.
Recycling Worker Hazards
Research conducted in 2015 by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and a study conducted at the University of Illinois School of Public Health revealed a significant health risk and high injury rate involving recycling workers. Research conclusions showed that there were unnecessary hazards to recycling workers that jeopardize their health and safety. The data showed that 17 recycling workers in the United States died while on the job between 2011 and 2013. Additionally, workers at recycling centers have twice the risk of suffering job-related injuries compared to the average worker.
In an interview with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, the Executive Director stated that "recycling has a right thing to do, but we have to do with the right away. That means educating and empowering recycling workers and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions."
Another research report revealed that the recycling industry has an exceptionally high fatality and injury rate due to unsafe working conditions. The worker is expected to perform their duties while exposed to hazardous items on the conveyor belt that include animal carcasses, toxic substances, deadly chemicals, and used contaminated hypodermic needles. Additionally, the worker is expected to remain safe around heavy machinery even though the moving conveyor can cause significant injuries without warning. The report suggests that many recycling plants hire more temporary employees than permanent workers. However, these temporary workers tend to be less informed about their rights at remaining safe while working and more timid about speaking up of their concerns about unsafe work practices and hazards.
The recycling plant worker is exposed to various common hazards in the workplace that includes:
- Exposure to Dangerous Biological Substances and Chemicals – local communities have initiated a multi-bin separation system where recyclables are pre-sorted before being collected to minimize the worker's exposure to dangerous hazards. Even so, the recycling plant worker is still exposed to many of the same hazardous products when the consumer ignores the dangers of disposing specific items or fails to understand how the process works.
Common exposure risks include being poked by a used contaminated hypodermic needle, being cut with a sharp metal object, nails, broken glass or wooden shard, and exposure to household and industrial chemicals including batteries, solvents, and thermometers that contain mercury and motor oil. Workers are typically exposed to rotting or dead animals that were either thrown into the bin or climbed into the recycling container before pickup. Other hazards include rotting food waste, animal feces, used diapers, and dangerous pathogens.
- Improperly Secured Bales of Recycled Material – Most recyclable materials are gathered, contained and strapped in bales that can weigh more than one ton. These bales are usually transported to another location in the facility and stored inside the recycling plant using forklifts and front unloaders to lift onto transport trucks. Working around the excessively heavy bales could place the worker at risk of being struck, hit, or run over.
- Dangerous Machinery – Recycling Plant Workers are required to perform their duties around sorting machinery, conveyor belts, and compactors. All of the equipment requires daily or weekly servicing, including belt adjustments, internal cleaning, and general maintenance. To maintain safety, the maintenance workers must ensure there is a functional lockout/tag out procedure when servicing damaged or jammed equipment. Without the safety feature, the worker could suffer fatal crushing injuries or amputation.
- Exposure to Airborne and Dust Contaminants – Most sorters working at the recycling plant are exposed to dangerous respiratory hazards that can cause significant health consequences. Some hazards involve the micro-particles of biohazards, glass materials, plastics, and toxic substances including silica and asbestos that are known to irritate the respiratory system. Also, exposure to organic waste, rotting food, and animal feces can cause significant respiratory harm by inhaling bioaerosols. To avoid this problem; the facility must have proper ventilation and be equipped the worker with respiratory masks to serve as a barrier against airborne toxins and carcinogenic vapors.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders – Recycling center employees and waste workers usually must perform their duties in awkward postures that require reaching, twisting, stooping, bending, jumping, or reaching overhead while sorting materials that are moving quickly across the conveyor belt. Unfortunately, the belt is fixed at a specific height which requires the sorter to bend forward and extend outward to reach items for hours at a time. Their work usually involves recurrent repetitive motion that can lead to significant acute and chronic injuries of the hands, fingers, knees, shoulders, arms, neck and back.
Recycling Plant Workers' Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the year 2016, involving employment data of the previous year, there were 2070 Recycling Plant Workers on the job in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. These statistics reveal that Recycling Plant Workers in northeastern Illinois earned $26.90 per hour, or $55,960 annually, on average. These earning wages are substantially higher than the national averages. See Chart
Statistics maintained by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reveal that during 2015 and 2016, the number of fatalities of recycling plant workers dropped dramatically in both the public and the private sector. However, this decreasing number affected only the material recovery facility (recycling plant), while the rate remained the same for recyclable collectors transporting the material back to the plant.
- Case 1: Allentown, Pennsylvania – A 40-year-old male recycling plant worker died at the Northampton plant outside of Allentown on October 3, 2011. The victim was pronounced dead after being transported to the local hospital. The worker suffered injuries after being crushed by a bale of recyclable material that fell on him in the early morning hours. This incident is not the first time that a worker at the plant lost their life. Another worker inspecting machinery died in 1999 after falling off the catwalk and hitting a concrete floor 15 feet below.
- Case 2: Brooklyn, New York – A teenage worker was crushed to death while working in a Brooklyn, New York recycling plant in March 2013 after being hit by equipment inside a recycling truck. The 18-year-old worker from the Bronx was working behind the truck that was parked at the recycling plant. In the late morning hours, while inside the truck, the compactor equipment hit the victim in the chest before he was crushed by the trucks hydraulic system. Emergency Medical Services responders were called to the scene and found the victim unconscious. After transporting him to the hospital, the victim was declared deceased. OSHA is investigating.
- Case 3: North Bergen, New Jersey – OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) cited the North Bergen recycling transfer station with violations after a worker's fingers were amputated while performing their duties. The investigation revealed that the plant had failed to follow safety procedures in using lockouts on the conveyor belt system to stop the equipment when the injured employee was clearing a cardboard jamb in the system. OSHA proposed that the facility receive a fine of $70,000 for their failure to implement a lockout/tag out program concerning a known hazard.
- Case 4: Napa County, California – A disposal and recycling worker died after tripping and falling in front of an oncoming semi-truck at the facility. In May 2013, a victim had opened the side door of the recycling plant and walked out of the office building before falling in front of the truck that was moving at approximately two miles per hour. The 58-year-old truck driver, also a plant worker, never saw the 45-year-old victim before running him over. Apparently, the incident was not the result of driving under the influence. However, OSHA was expected to investigate the event.
- Case 5: Raleigh North Carolina – A 39-year-old recycling plant employee died in a job-related accident. No witnesses saw the event, but one worker discovered the decedent next to his forklift. This incident is not the first time a worker has died at a North Carolina Sonoco Recycling Facility. A previous incident claimed the life of recycling worker when a bale of cardboard weighing approximately one ton fell on him and crushed him to death. OSHA has cited the company noting that there were six workplace violations in one year.
- Case 6: Indianapolis, Indiana – A recycling plant maintenance worker died after being crushed by equipment that compresses and melts recycle plastic. The incident occurred in November 2016. The coroners identified the victim's cause of death as blunt force trauma injury to the head, extremity, and body. At the time of the incident, the 31-year-old victim was working inside the disabled equipment attempting to unjam material before the machine returned on again, causing his death. The general manager at the plant stated that the equipment transforms light plastic into dense pellets that are then repurposed in a variety of plastic goods including picture frames.
Safety is the highest priority for workers at a recycling plant. To ensure that everyone safety, the owner, management, and every employee needs to follow the best work practices that are proven to lower injury rates, save lives, and reduce incidents occurring inside the facility.
The Next Step to File an Accident Injury Compensation Claim
Our lawyers help injured Recycling Plant Workers obtain compensation under the IL Worker's Compensation Act and through civil lawsuits. We provide Free Case Reviews and a No-Win/No Fee guarantee.
If you were injured in a job-related accident or suffered an illness from exposure, you are likely entitled to receive workers compensation. However, our legal team can help you determine if you are also entitled to receive additional monetary recovery from third parties as well. Our lawyers will do everything possible to ensure you receive maximum value for your claim. Our work includes exploring every legal option including how to prove a third party personal injury case. While you might be limited in the amount your family can receive through worker's compensation, a personal injury claim for compensation has no limit.
With legal representation, your lawyer will provide immediate services without you needing to make an upfront payment. Fees for legal services are postponed because our personal injury attorneys working on your behalf are paid only after they have successfully resolved your case by winning at trial or after negotiating an acceptable out of court settlement. We guarantee you pay us only if we obtain financial compensation for you!