Safety in the e-scrap industry has room to improve

By Lacey Evans, E-Scrap News

October 6, 2016

Whether you operate a small shredding operation or a larger e-scrap processing facility, safety must be a priority. The subject of safety was explored at an E-Scrap Academy session during E-Scrap 2016 in New Orleans last month

.E-Scrap 2016 / Jared Paben

Diana Ceballos from the Harvard School of Public Health discussed the occupational and environmental health effects of the e-scrap industry and Lloyd Andrew with EnvirOSH discussed basic worker safety and training. Both agree operations have to go beyond the standard regulations and both agree the industry is getting safer but still has a long way to go.

Ceballos has studied the various chemicals and toxic metals, such as PCBs, flame retardants, mercury and lead, involved in the e-scrap industry and their impact on workers. The metals and chemicals can be endocrine disruptors, which can lead to a change in thyroid and cellular function, changes in temperament and behavior, decreased lung function, and adverse neonatal outcomes.

Workers are exposed to those chemicals and heavy metals during all parts of the recycling process: shredding, CRT processing, filter cleaning and dismantling, with shredding and special processing being the most dangerous.

Even those working in facility offices, or working and living nearby, can be exposed to the chemicals because they get into the air and soil and contaminate surfaces.

Ceballos also reviewed one study that found two children of an e-scrap processor got lead poisoning from take-home exposure.

In summary, Ceballos said workers are over-exposed to metals and more mitigation is necessary, but there is a solution. First, electronics can be designed differently without harmful substances and easy to disassemble components. Second, processors can improve how electronics are processed by assessing what workers are exposed to and going beyond regulations to keep employees, and the environment, safe.

Lloyd Andrew, with EnvirOSH Services, Inc., agrees with Ceballos that companies need to go beyond the basics. Andrew is a certified industrial hygienist and president of EnvirOSH, an environmentally occupational safety and health consulting agency. His company focuses on basic safety of e-scrap and other recycling facilities: forklift and other machinery hazards, ergonomics, personal protection and other physical risks.

Andrew said the industry should advance beyond the minimum regulations. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards concerning chemicals, like lead, were written in the 70s and aren’t on par with advancements in the industry.

Andrew went further, saying facility design is just as important as training in keeping employees safe. Does the facility have potholes or inclines, places where forklifts can tip over? Do forklifts have a separate path from pedestrians? Is the ventilation system properly working? Those things should be permanent engineering changes.

Both Andrew and Ceballos think standards and certifications are the solution to better worker safety. They take into consideration the environment and science-based recommendations, said Ceballos.

E-Scrap 2016 / Jared Paben

“Certifying agencies are doing a good job of driving the industry,” said Andrew. He added they are a good way for the industry to advance beyond the minimum. “If you want to win in the e-scrap business, you must be better than OSHA.”

“It sounds like a big burden but if you don’t do it right,” Cabellos said. “You pay the price in the beginning to do things right or you pay the price at the end when the facility closes down and it becomes a superfund site.”