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New Report Finds 17 Deaths, High Injury Rates for Recycling Workers

The fast-growing recycling industry can help reduce greenhouse gases and cut back on harmful landfills- but a new report shows 17 deaths of recycling workers between 2011 and 2013, and a high rate of injury on the job.

“Sustainable and Safe Recycling: Protecting Workers Who Protect the Planet” released today by National COSH, GAIA, MassCOSH, the Partnership for Working Families and the University of Illinois, Chicago — shows that workers at Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are more than twice as likely to suffer a non-fatal injury on the job than a typical U.S. worker.

The study’s authors show that these deaths and injuries are preventable, calling on municipal governments to increase industry accountability and improve recycling worker health. “Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “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 like the death of a recycling worker just last week in Florida.”

David P. Rossman, a recycling worker, was crushed to death in a cardboard compactor at a recycling facility in Winter Garden, Florida on June 15th. He left behind a wife and two sons. OSHA is investigating the incident.

COSH groups, unions, and workers across the country have been taking direct action- through advocacy and training- to improve conditions for recycling workers.

“This report confirms the concerns we have expressed to city leadership about the working conditions for the recycling workers who sort Boston’s recyclables,” said MassCOSH Labor Environment Coordinator and report co-author Tolle Graham. “We think it’s important for Boston to re-examine its’ contract for receiving and sorting recyclables to make sure that it rewards contractors in the bidding process who have strong health and safety records and practices, applies the City’s Living Wage Ordinance to those workers, and discourages the use of temporary labor.”

Contributors to the report include Tolle Graham and Jamie Tester of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), Peter Orris of the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, Joanna Shimek of the University of Indiana School of Public Health, Monica Wilson of GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), and Hays Witt of the Partnership for Working Families.

Safety advocates and community leaders gathered in Atlanta to release the report and call for protections for recycling workers. Organizations represented at the event included Georgia Stand-Up, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Teamsters Local 728, the Georgia AFL-CIO, AFSCME Local 3, and the Georgia Sierra Club.