Shredding safely a BIR priority

Global recycling association has surveyed the world’s shredder operators to identify workplace accident patterns at shredder yards.

The scrap recycling industry has been identified by government agencies in the United States and elsewhere as one where workplace accidents pose an outsized risk.

In the U.S., the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has placed a consistent emphasis on its safety programs in the past two decades. The Shredder Committee of the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), meanwhile, has undertaken an effort to better understand when and why accidents occur at scrap shredding facilities.

The BIR issued its Shredder Safety Survey Report for 2019 in 2020, and in early June of this year announced an updated Shredder Safety Survey Report for 2020.

The reports summarize the findings of surveys sent to BIR member companies that operate shredding plants with 1,000 horsepower motors or larger.

Christopher J. Bedell, senior vice president and general counsel with the U.S.-based David J. Joseph Co. (DJJ), has been among those leading the survey effort, along with Scott Newell III of U.S.-based Newell Recycling Equipment and BIR staff member Ross Bartley, who is the bureau’s trade and environment director.

While shredder accidents may bring to mind the gruesome outcome of a worker entering an active, rotating shredder, the reality is somewhat less intense, with no fatalities reported in the 2019 survey.

Nonetheless, BIR survey respondents recorded several different types of lost-time accidents, including at least one amputation and several contusions and fractures. Along with fractures and contusions, the other most common injury was listed as “foreign body in eye.”

“The need for eye protection stands out from this analysis,” the BIR comments in its published survey results. Nearly 40 percent of the reported injuries involved a worker’s hand or arm, compared with 24 percent for the eye, face and head.

More than half of the reported incidents (53 percent) occurred during maintenance work, and “most accidents were at the material pile, the shredder infeed, at metal separation and at ground level,” the BIR states in its report.

Conveyors, while not carrying out a loud or destructive process like the shredder, were commonly involved in accidents. Twenty percent of injuries occurred during the picking process, and 18 percent during conveyor repair or maintenance work, representing two of the three largest tasks being performed when an injury took place.

Bedell of DJJ is urging the BIR to consider a safety “summit” of shredder operators who can consider and discuss the survey results. Such a discussion, says Bedell, could then lead to actions “to address the highest risks in shredder operations.”

Adds Bedell, “It’s always valuable to share instances and stories, and to take lessons from them.” He says a summit meeting also could help identify trends that might not show up at individual yards, creating policies designed to prevent accidents.

In the recommendations section of its 2019 survey report, the BIR Shredder Committee writes that one of the best ways to prevent injuries is one of the oldest and most enforceable for managers: wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The need for eye protection stands out from this analysis, as well as the need to take care around heavy and sharp objects,” writes the committee. “The analysis reinforces the need to offer protection in particular for the head (hard hat), eyes (safety glasses), hands (gloves) and feet (safety boots). Leg protection may also be considered.”