Klaus Kuhl, Ellen Schmitz-Felten, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Definitions, descriptions and scope
- 3 Hazards, risks, exposures
- 4 Accident and ill health figures and trends
- 5 Legal aspects, policies
- 6 Prevention and control measures
- 7 Outlook
- 8 References
- 9 Links for further reading
The amount of waste generated in the EU is growing as ever more electronic appliances, cars, etc. appear on the market. Governments are trying to find ways to prevent and manage this increasing amount of waste, including measures such as collection, sorting, compacting, treatment, recycling, composting, incineration, use as biomass/bioenergy, landfill. Hygiene conditions in the field of industrial, medical and domestic waste treatment are often poor, and workers are exposed to increased accident risks, hazardous chemicals (e.g. mercury in e-waste), dust, microorganisms, short comings in work organisation and psychosocial risks. Waste management is considered one of the most hazardous occupations with a high accident and illness rate. This article will look at typical problems in the sector as well as measures for prevention and control.
Definitions, descriptions and scope
Waste is a term for unwanted items or materials. Synonyms include: garbage, refuse, trash and rubbish.
The United Nations Statistics Division defines wastes as ‘materials that are not prime products (that is products produced for the market) for which the initial user has no further use in terms of his/her own purposes of production, transformation or consumption, and of which he/she wants to dispose. Wastes may be generated during the extraction of raw materials, the processing of raw materials into intermediate and final products, the consumption of final products, and other human activities. Residuals recycled or reused at the place of generation are excluded.’
Basic concepts and definitions related to waste management are set out by the European Union in Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC, which defines waste as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard.’ The relevant sectors as classified by NACE are: E - 38 Waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery, and E – 39.00 Remediation activities and other waste management services.
The term waste encompasses several dimensions:
- Related to how it is generated :
- by the primary production sector (mining, forestry, agriculture, animal breeding, fisheries);
- during the production and transformation (foods, equipment, products of all types);
- by the consumption sector (households, enterprises, transportation, trade, construction, services, etc.).
More details are given in the following table:
Table 1: Sources of waste
Organics (from food processing)
Retail packaging (paper, glass, metal, plastics, etc.)
Kitchen waste (organics)
Hazardous waste (chemicals, oil)
Bulky waste (used furniture) etc.
|Construction and demolition||Concrete, bricks, iron, soil, cables, etc.|
|Infrastructure activities||Park waste
Street cleaning waste
Clinkers, ashes and flue gas from energy production
Hospital and laboratory waste
|Waste processing||Rejects from sorting facilities
Clinkers, ashes and flue gas cleaning products from incineration
Source: Adapted from ILO
- Related to how it is classified by legislative decree:
- Category of municipal waste and mixed waste from enterprises which may be aggregated as municipal waste, since both consist of the same categories of waste and are of small size (vegetables, paper, metals, glass, plastics and so on), although in differing proportions;
- Category of bulky urban waste (furniture, equipment, vehicles, construction and demolition waste other than inert material);
- Waste subject to special legislation (e.g. hazardous, infectious, radioactive).
- Related to its physical state:
- Solid waste;
- Liquid waste;
- Gaseous waste.
The European Waste Framework Directive excludes among others gaseous effluents emitted into the atmosphere and waste waters. However both gases and liquid wastes are within the scope of the Directive as far as they are contained in vessels and cylinders. Sewage, defined as water-carried waste, in solution or suspension that is intended to be removed from a community, is covered by a different European Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment) and is part of a different industry sector classification (NACE rev. 2: E-37 Sewerage).
Amount and composition of waste
In 2016, the total amount of waste generated in the EU by all economic activities and households was 2 261 million tonnes. The construction sector contributed 34.8% to the total amount of waste, followed by mining (27.6%), manufacturing (11.1%), waste and water supply (9.5%) and households (8.3%). Of the waste generated in the EU in 2016, 94.7 million tonnes (4.2% of the total) were classified as hazardous waste. Hazardous waste may pose an increased risk to human health and the environment if not managed and disposed of safely. Compared to 2010, the EU generated 4.2% more hazardous waste in 2016, an increase from 90.8 to 94.7 million tonnes. In 2016, the share of hazardous waste in total waste generation was less than 10.0% in all EU Member States except for Estonia and Bulgaria.
E-waste contains certain materials in small quantities that may increase in price as the resources get scarcer, such as gold, silver, palladium, indium. Recycling may therefore become lucrative. E-waste however, contains hazardous substances making recycling difficult as is shown in table 2.
Table 2: Hazardous substances in e-waste
|Substance||Occurrence in e-waste|
|PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls)||Condensers, Transformers|
PBB (polybrominated biphenyls)
PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)
|Fire retardants for plastics (thermoplastic components, cable insulation)
TBBA is currently the most widely used flame retardant in printed wiring boards and casings.
|Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)||Cooling unit, Insulation foam|
|PVC (polyvinyl chloride)||Cable insulation|
|Heavy metals and other metals:|
|Arsenic||Small quantities in the form of gallium arsenide within light emitting diodes|
|Barium||Getters in CRT|
|Beryllium||Power supply boxes which contain silicon controlled rectifiers and x-ray lenses|
|Cadmium||Rechargeable NiCd-batteries, fluorescent layer (CRT screens), printer inks and toners, photocopying-machines (printer drums)|
|Chromium VI||Data tapes, floppy-disks|
|Lead||CRT screens, batteries, printed wiring boards|
|Mercury||Fluorescent lamps that provide backlighting in LCDs, in some alkaline batteries and mercury wetted switches|
|Nickel||Rechargeable NiCd-batteries or NiMH-batteries, electron gun in CRT|
|Rare Earth elements (Yttrium, Europium)||Fluorescent layer (CRT-screen)|
|Selenium||Older photocopying-machines (photo drums)|
|Zinc sulphide||Interior of CRT screens, mixed with rare earth metals|
|Toner Dust||Toner cartridges for laser printers / copiers|
|Medical equipment, fire detectors, active sensing element in smoke detectors|
Source: EMPA- Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research
Waste management as defined by the Waste Framework Directive is the collection, transport, recovery and disposal of waste, including the supervision of such operations and the after-care of disposal sites, and including actions taken as a dealer or broker. Other important terms defined by the directive:
- Treatment: means recovery or disposal operations, including preparation prior to recovery or disposal.
- Recovery: means any operation that principally results in waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function, in the factory or in the wider economy. Annex II of the Directive sets out a non-exhaustive list of recovery operations.
Municipal and ordinary commercial waste is usually collected by trucks, and then transported to landfill or a treatment plant for material recovery (mechanical sorting, composting, biomethanization), or for energy recovery (grid or kiln incinerator, pyrolysis). Treatment plants can reduce the residues, however, this may be more hazardous for the environment and the workers than the original waste: e.g. incinerators produce fly ashes with very high heavy metal and complex chemical content. These residues are classified by legislation as hazardous waste and require special management.
Producers of industrial and domestic equipment are responsible for the recycling. The residues are then either hazardous waste or are similar to ordinary waste from enterprises.
The increasing price of landfills provides an incentive for improved sorting of construction and demolition waste. Separation of the hazardous and burnable waste from the large quantity of inert materials allows these inert materials to be disposed of at a far lower rate than mixed waste.
Chemically hazardous waste must be treated through neutralization, mineralization, insolubilization or must be made inert before it can then be deposited in secure chemical landfills. Infectious waste is best burnt in special incinerators. Radioactive waste is subject to very strict legislation.
Waste which cannot be recycled, down-cycled, reused or incinerated to produce energy must somehow be disposed of. The toxicity of these residues to the environment must first be reduced and the residues should be deposited in sites where they will not contaminate water and ecosystem nor spread into the atmosphere. Permanent deposits need to be monitored for decades. Restrictions on land use of a deposit site must also be controlled for long periods of time. Controlled drainage systems for leachates or gases are necessary in most cases.
Structure and employment of the sector
The European waste management sector has joined forces and set up the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services FEAD. FEAD’s members are national waste management associations covering 19 Member States and Norway. According to FEAD they have roughly 60% share of the household waste market, handling more than 75% of industrial and commercial waste in Europe. Their combined annual turnover is approximately 75 billion Euro. FEAD represents about 3000 companies with activities in all forms of waste management. These companies employ over 320,000 workers who operate around 2,400 recycling and sorting centres, 1,100 composting sites, 260 waste-to-energy plants and 900 controlled landfills.
A study commissioned by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) examined the waste management sector in Europe in 2017 and looked at the trends in employment. The authors conclude that there is a general consensus that employment in the waste sector is rising but there are differences between the subsectors. Overall there were 0.8 million employees (full-time equivalents) in waste management in 2000. By 2014 the number of employees increased to 1.1 million full-time equivalents (36% increase in employment). However, most jobs can be found in waste collection. Over half (56%) of the employment in waste collection, treatment, disposal and material recovery is in waste collection.
Conversely, to the job increases in waste management, employment decreased in waste water management. Between 2000 and 2014 employment decreased by 63000 (full time equivalent, falling to 586 000 (full-time equivalents) in 2014. In other words, employment in wastewater management de- creased by 10% in this period.
Far fewer jobs are found in material recovery. While the recycled amount of waste has grown between 2010 and 2014 by 27 million tonnes or 7% resulting in an increase of the recycling rate from 53% to 55%,69 there is little evidence of an increased employment growth in the material recovery phase of waste management. In January 2013 there were 190 222 people employed in material recovery in the EU 28 countries. By the end of 2014 only 2 500 more people were employed in the sector in the EU28 countries. This equates to a 1.3% increase in nearly 2 years.
However, the authors of the EPSU study point to the fact that it is estimated that up to one million people in Europe are occupied in the informal recycling and re-use economy. These workers are often faced with poor working conditions and or mostly migrant workers.
Hazards, risks, exposures
This chapter gives a short overview of the hazards, risks and exposures in the sector. The different types of hazards that can be related to waste management are chemical (including dust), biological, physical (noise, vibration, manual handling, repetitive movements, slips, trips and falls.), sharps, work organisation, and psychosocial problems. More details can be found in the article on Accidents and injuries in the waste management sector and in the article on Exposure to dangerous substances in the waste management sector.
Management of waste encompasses a complex set of potential impacts on human health and safety, and the environment. Although the type of hazards may be similar, the impacts are distinguished between three types of operation (see also table 3 below):
- handling and storage at the waste producer;
- collection and transportation;
- sorting, processing and disposal.
Health and safety hazards will arise where the waste is originally produced - at the factory or consumer. This influences the occupational health and safety risks associated with the waste separation, storage, collection, transportation, processing and disposal.
Hazards and risks
Each type of waste can be characterized by its origin. Its health and safety hazards can be influenced by the waste producer, i.e. the amount of dangerous substances in the product, whether the product can be easily transported, dismantled or decomposed, without creating dust, etc. The product should be designed in such a way as to create minimum waste and health and safety problems at the later waste stage. The generator of the waste has an important responsibility, however, collection, sorting, treatment and disposal entail their own significant hazards and risks - linked to work processes and work organisation, as is shown in the following table.
Table 3: Hazards in the waste management sector related to work processes
|Production steps that determine the later waste character||Dangerous substances (chemicals, nanomaterials)
Awkward positions for dismantling
|Technical and quality issues may limit the replacement of problematic agents and processes|
Dangerous substances (diesel motor emissions - DME, carbon monoxide - CO, etc.)
|Separation at source into specific waste elements depending on material characteristics (e.g. specific hospital waste)||Dangerous substances (including dust and biological agents such as microorganisms)
Untidy and unclear conditions may cause slips, trips and falls
|Temporary storage at the waste producer in bins, sacks, containers or in bulk
|Collection (e.g. communal household collection) and transportation by vehicle||Dangerous substances (DME, CO, microorganisms, dust)
|Transfer station: compaction and reloading to larger transport units||Dangerous substances
Untidy and unclear conditions may cause slips, trips and falls
Can be at any stage of the waste system, and at each stage of the waste system
|Dangerous substances (e.g. mercury in screen back-lights) including biological agents and dust
Untidy and unclear conditions may cause slips, trips and falls
|Problematic items (e.g. e-waste, ELV – end of life vehicles, ships) are sometimes sent to low-income societies and non-industrial countries, where health and safety regulations are less strict or less strict enforced.|
- manual or mechanical sorting out into different material fractions for recycling - processing of pre-sorted waste elements to secondary raw materials
- processing for new (raw) materials
- incineration for volume reduction
- incineration for energy recovery
- anaerobic digestion of organics for production of soil conditioner, fertilizer and energy (biogas)
- composting of organics for production of soil conditioner and fertilizer
|Dangerous substances including dust, micro-organism and toxins
Untidy and unclear conditions may cause slips, trips and falls
Confined spaces (e.g. during maintenance)
Insufficient work organisation
|Includes a high degree of manual work often by migrant workers.|
|Waste disposal (e.g. ashes), in e.g. landfills||Dangerous substances including micro-organism and dust
Untidy and unclear conditions may cause slips, trips and falls
Source: Established by the authors, based on ILO
Regarding biomass, EU-OSHA notes in its foresight study on new and emerging risks in green jobs that the storage and handling ‘exposes workers to physical risks, to chemical and biological risks and to risks from fire and explosion. High temperatures and sometimes high pressures are used in pyrolysis (350–550 °C) and gasification (over 700 °C). There is also a potential issue with the increased variability in the constitution of gas derived from biomass compared to fossil fuels. Third-generation biofuels [derived from algae] have the potential to give rise to new biological risks. There may also be operational risks associated with the scaling-up of third-generation biofuel production from demonstration plant to commercial scale. With widespread adoption of bioenergy, many workers are potentially at risk. Agriculture increasingly turns to biomass production, and work in forestry is likely to intensify. Waste products from biomass can be toxic (for example, wood ash contains heavy metals and is strongly alkaline).’
With regard to waste treatment, EU-OSHA notes that the ‘political pressure to recycle means that the range of materials to which workers are potentially exposed is very large. Increasing volumes of waste result in difficulties in identifying the provenance and composition of waste. However, improvements in the labelling, tracking and audit of materials are helping in the identification process. Workers have to deal with hazardous waste, not just valuable waste, including material from urban mining and recycling of industrial waste. Nanomaterials are also increasingly appearing in waste as their use in manufacturing becomes more widespread. However, the increasing use of robots to sort and handle waste serves to improve workers’ health and safety. The zero waste economy entails dealing with the most difficult tail-end of the waste stream, as such wastes in concentrated form are hazards that need special handling.’
New and emerging risks
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) identified as key new technologies that may be introduced in green jobs by 2020, and which may lead to new and emerging risks in the workplace including:
- Bioenergy and the energy applications of biotechnology:
Biofuels (diesel, ethanol etc.), biomass combustion, biomass-co-firing, anaerobic digestion (biogas production), landfill gas utilisation, biomass gasification, pyrolysis Biocatalysts, engineered cell factories, plant biofactories, novel process conditions/industrial scale-up, biorefining and very large-scale bioprocessing (VLSB), meso-scale manufacture, agricultural technologies, synthetic biology, genetic modification
- Waste processing:
Collection, sorting and processing of waste for recycling or for energy production; recycling of materials and components
- Nanomaterials as discussed above.
There is no complete picture available about exposure of workers to the hazards mentioned above, but some specific studies have been carried out.
The data from EWCS show that workers in the waste management sector are often exposed to risks such as high and low temperatures, vibrations, noise and infectious materials. They are also highly exposed to risks due to the workload and manual handling. More than 50% state that their job involves tiring or painful positions during at least a quarter of their working time. Almost 60% are confronted with repetitive hand or arm movements and almost 75% say that are standing during at least quarter of their working time. The data also indicate that many workers in the waste management sector work at high speed or that their pace of work is influenced by demands from colleagues, customers, etc.
For more information please see the following articles:
- Accidents and injuries in the waste management sector
- Exposure to dangerous substances in the waste management sector
Accident and ill health figures and trends
This chapter gives a short overview of the numbers, rates and trends of accidents and ill-health in the sector. More details can be found in the article on Accidents and injuries in the waste management sector and in the article on Exposure to dangerous substances in the waste management sector.
Workers in the waste management sector feel that their health and safety is at risk. Data form EWCS show that 36.9% agree with this statement and 33.9% feel that their health is negatively affected by their work. These percentages are higher than for all other sectors including for industry.
- Cuts, abrasions and lacerations
- Contact with sharp materials
- Particles in eye
- Airborne dust and flying objects
- Repetitive motion
- Manual sorting
Data from Eurostat show an overall downward trend of the incidence rate of fatal accidents between 2010 and 2017 (table 4).
Table 4: Fatal accidents in the EU-28 (incidence rate)
|Incidence rate fatal accidents||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|E Water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities||5,81||7,07||4,76||5,56||5,31||5,5||5,86||5,77|
|E36 Water collection, treatment and supply||3,33||3,11||1,51||1,76||1,76||2,29||1,52||2,31|
|E38 Waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery||7,67||7,76||5,76||7,94||7,05||7,31||7,91||7,5|
|E39 Remediation activities and other waste management services||5,53||31,17||7,65||1,79||6,39||6||8,88||3,08|
Incidence rate: number of accidents at work per 100 000 workers
Source: Eurostat 
The situation concerning non-fatal accidents is similar to that presented above. Overall, the incidence rate of non-fatal accidents decreased between 2010 and 2017 (table 5).
Table 5: Non-fatal accidents in the EU-28 (incidence rate)
|Incidence rate non fatal accidents||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|E Water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities||3.557,39||3.503,78||2.853,61||3.000,18||3.065,41||3.021,54||3.069,3||3.056,32|
|E36 Water collection, treatment and supply||2.034,41||1.842,16||1.116,25||1.177,24||1.285,31||1.326,89||1.339,86||1.293,01|
|E38 Waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery||4.346,48||4.319,86||3.735,06||3.967,89||3.947,13||3.914,86||3.993,46||3.922,67|
|E39 Remediation activities and other waste management services||4.450,05||4.817,83||3.333,8||2.808,48||5.113,78||2.823,07||2.931,28||2.689,87|
Incidence rate: number of accidents at work per 100 000 workers
Source: Eurostat 
In addition to injuries from accidents a 2003 review article from Platner  found several work-related diseases prevalent among waste management workers, such as organic dust toxic syndrome, asthma, alveolitis, bronchitis, endotoxin effects, skin damage, mucosal irritation, ischemic heart disease, nausea, headache, diarrhoea, and hypersensitivity reactions.
The major health problems are caused by exposure to complex mixtures of dangerous substances such as biological agents, chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Kuijer and Sluiter conducted a review study of work-related health problems and found that workers in the waste sector have an increased risk of respiratory complaints, as well as gastrointestinal disorders. The related diseases are respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis, gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and nausea, and infections such as hepatitis (A and C), HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B.
The data available on Eurostat on work-related health problems (derived from the Labour Force Survey) are not available for specific sectors. However, figures from the UK published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that there are 6,000 cases of work-related health problems in the waste management sector each year. These 6,000 cases represent 4.5% of the workers in the waste management sector which is statistically significantly higher than the rate for workers across All industries (3.1%). Most cases (75%) were suffering from musculoskeletal disorders or stress, depression or anxiety. The remaining workers were suffering from other types of illness, such as skin or respiratory conditions.
Legal aspects, policies
A good overview on legal requirements for waste management is presented by the Eurlex website “Summaries of legislation”.
The above mentioned EU Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC is an environmental law but it also refers to human health and covers workers. It requires Member States to take the ‘necessary measures to ensure that waste management is carried out without endangering human health, without harming the environment and, in particular:
- without risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals;
- without causing a nuisance through noise or odours; and
- without adversely affecting the countryside or places of special interest.
The directive further requests that ‘the necessary action to ensure that the production, collection and transportation of hazardous waste, as well as its storage and treatment, are carried out in conditions providing protection for the environment and human health …’.
How workers are protected is laid down in the “Framework Directive” - the 'basic law' on OSH in the EU. Several so called daughter directives were adopted under this general directive, some of which are sector specific. There is however, no specific directive for the waste management sector, but several of these daughter directives are relevant for the sector because workers in this sector are exposed to many hazards as clearly outlined above; these include:
- Directive 89/654/EEC - workplace requirements
- Directive 98/24/EC - risks related to chemical agents at work
- Directive 2004/37/EC - carcinogens or mutagens at work
- Directive 2000/54/EC - biological agents at work
- Directive 2009/148/EC - exposure to asbestos at work
- Directive 2010/32/EU - prevention from sharp injuries in the hospital and healthcare sector
- Directive 99/92/EC - risks from explosive atmospheres
- Directive 90/269/EEC - manual handling of loads
- Directive 2003/10/EC - noise
- Directive 2002/44/EC - vibration
- Directive 2003/88/EC - working time
- Directive 2002/15/EC - working time - mobile road transport activities
- Directive 91/383/EEC - fixed-duration or temporary employment relationship
- Directive 95/50/EC - checks on road transport of dangerous goods
- Directive 89/656/EEC - use of personal protective equipment
Based on Directive 91/322/EEC - establishing indicative limit values by implementing Council Directive 80/1107/EEC on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work, the EU has published lists with indicative occupational exposure limit values that may also be relevant to waste management work:
- Directive 2000/39/EC - establishing a first list of indicative occupational exposure limit values in implementation of Council Directive 98/24/EC on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work.
- Directive 2006/15/EC - establishing a second list of indicative occupational exposure limit values in implementation of Council Directive 98/24/EC and amending Directives 91/322/EEC and 2000/39/EC
- Directive 2009/161/EU - establishing a third list of indicative occupational exposure limit values in implementation of Council Directive 98/24/EC and amending Commission Directive 2000/39/EC
- Directive 2017/164/EU - establishing a fourth list of indicative occupational exposure limit values pursuant to Council Directive 98/24/EC, and amending Commission Directives 91/322/EEC, 2000/39/EC and 2009/161/EU
- Directive 2019/1831/EU - establishing a fifth list of indicative occupational exposure limit values pursuant to Council Directive 98/24/EC and amending Commission Directive 2000/39/EC
More details on legal aspects can be found in the article on Accidents and injuries in the waste management sector and in the article on Exposure to dangerous substances in the waste management sector.
European guidelines have been developed for implementing the legal requirements, often in tripartite efforts or social dialogue - specifically to assist small and medium sized companies and advisory institutes. The following guidelines are relevant for the waste management sector:
- Health and safety at work is everybody’s business - Practical guidance for employers
- Guidance on risk assessment at work (Directive 89/391/EEC)
- Practical guidelines of a non-binding nature on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work
- Non-binding guide to good practice for implementing Directive 1999/92/EC "ATEX" (explosive atmospheres)
- Non-binding guide to good practice for the application of Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum safety and health requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (Noise)
- Non-binding guide to good practice with a view to implementation of directive 2002/44/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibrations)
Prevention and control measures
After the hazards have been identified, the next step is to determine who will be exposed to these hazards and to what extent. This will then lead to the identification of the necessary prevention and control measures including a reassessment of the effectiveness of the already existing measures. By law, the selection of measures has to follow a certain hierarchy to ensure that the most effective measures (e.g. avoidance and substitution) are considered first and the least effective ones such as personal protective equipment are seen as the last resort. It is beneficial to involve the workers into this compulsory risk assessment process as they have sound knowledge about the conditions and risks at their workplaces.
This chapter gives examples of guidance available on prevention and control measures. More details can be found in the article on Accidents and injuries in the waste management sector and in the article on Exposure to dangerous substances in the waste management sector.
The European Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC establishes a waste hierarchy as a priority order in waste prevention and management legislation and policy:
- preparing for re-use;
- other recovery, e.g. energy recovery; and
The directive also states that Member States shall take measures to encourage the options that deliver the best overall environmental outcome when applying the waste hierarchy. This may require specific waste streams departing from the hierarchy where this is justified by life-cycle impact on the generation and management of such waste.
Prevention is seen as a key factor in any waste management strategy. If the amount of waste generated in the first place can be reduced and made less hazardous by reducing the presence of dangerous substances in products, then disposing of it will be less problematic. Waste prevention is closely linked with improving manufacturing methods and influencing consumers to demand greener products and less packaging. This will also positively affect the OSH of the workers in this sector.
Collection and transportation
Accident insurance associations and enforcement agencies give specific guidance regarding a) safe driving of collection and transport vehicles, b) safety measures for reversing such vehicles and c) standing on the footboards while the vehicle is in motion. They also give recommendations on how to move the waste bins and containers in order to avoid musculoskeletal problems. Measures to clearly label, safely store and restrict access to waste fractions are also important.  
Sorting, processing and disposal
Similar guidance is available for treatment and recycling activities: e.g. cabin requirements for waste sorters (e.g. how to ensure appropriate ventilation), specifications on PPE, appropriate work organisation, measures against noise and stress, immunisation, handling of hazardous materials (e.g. backlights for computer screens), and ergonomic specifications.    
Rupprecht conducted a study at a paper recycling plant, where there used to be a high number of accidents related to tripping and falling. For comparative purposes, the workers discussed and filmed some of the re-enacted accidents and the correct behaviour. Music was added but no spoken word or text was integrated. The films were then screened in the break room on a continuous loop. Although workers were not told to watch the films, they quickly adopted the message and content, and the accident rate went down to zero within nine months.
Measures that aim to improve the safe behaviour of workers include such methods as peer-observation and peer-discussion, but these need preconditions in place, such as example setting by superiors, establishing a no-blame culture among managers and supervisors, and valuing proposals by diligent feed-back.
Workers in the waste management sector are exposed to a very wide range of hazards. Correspondingly complex and comprehensive prevention and control measures must be developed and applied. This is made all the more necessary by the growth in this high risk sector, and the new risks which are emerging.
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- DG EMPL - Directorate General Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs, Guidance on risk assessment at work (Directive 89/391/EEC), Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1996. Available at: 
- DG EMPL - Directorate General Employment and Social Affairs, Practical guidelines of a non-binding nature on the protection of the health and safety of workers from the risks related to chemical agents at work, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2006. Available at: 
- DG EMPL - Directorate General Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs, Non-binding guide to good practice for implementing Directive 1999/92/EC "ATEX" (explosive atmospheres), Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2005. Available at: 
- DG EMPL - Directorate General Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs, Non-binding guide to good practice for the application of Directive 2003/10/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the minimum safety and health requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (Noise). Available at: 
- DG EMPL - Directorate General Employment and Social Affairs, Non-binding guide to good practice with a view to implementation of directive 2002/44/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (vibrations), Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2008. Available at: 
- EC – European Council, ‘Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (Framework Directive)’, Official Journal L 183, 29/06/1989, 1989, pp. 0001-0008. Available at: 
- HSE – Health and Safety Executive (UK) (2013). Waste management and recycling. Available at: 
- BG Verkehr (2013). Abfallsammlung (Waste collection). Available at: 
- ILO, 'Hospital waste management', ILO encyclopaedia, 2011. Available at: 
- ABAS - Ausschuss für Biologische Arbeitsstoffe, Technische Regeln für Biologische Arbeitsstoffe - Abfallbehandlungsanlagen, TRBA 214, 2013. Availble at: 
- BG Verkehr (2013). Abfallbehandlung und Recycling (Waste treatment and recycling). Available at: 
- BAUA, Handlungsanleitung zur guten Arbeitspraxis Elektronikschrottrecycling – Tätigkeiten mit Gefahrstoffen bei der manuellen Zerlegung von Bildschirm- und anderen Elektrogeräten (guidance to good practice concerning e-waste recycling - acticvities involving hazardous substances during the manual dismantling of screens and other electro appliances), 2011. Available at: 
- Bördlein, C., Faktor Mensch in der Arbeitssicherheit – BBS (human factor in occupational safety – BBS), Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2009.
Links for further reading
EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Dangerous Substances e-tool. Available at: 
EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Exposure to biological agents and related health effects in the waste management and wastewater treatment sectors, Available at: 
HSE – Health and Safety Executive (UK). Waste management and recycling. Available at: