Do you remember the 60 minutes segment that aired in 2008 regarding the “Electronic Wasteland”? The investigation demonstrated the volume of first-world obsolete electronics being shipped to third-world countries for disposal. Aside from the data security risks, emphasis was placed on the horrific environmental disasters, along with the toxic exposure nearby residents and workers are suffering from. The low costs associated with recycling in these areas were a result of the strict safety regulations in developed countries, which made it ten times cheaper for collectors to export e-waste to these wastelands.
While these third-world countries are extracting precious metals and valuable resources from electronic devices manually using tools, harmful chemicals and physical labor, advanced recyclers across the globe have mechanized much of this process. Oftentimes staff at responsible recycling companies will track and help disassemble equipment in order to prepare and load the shredding and separation machinery.
While these processes are not comparable to those of third-world countries, industrialized recyclers cannot solely rely on regulatory requirements to protect all employees from every risk posed at their unique recycling facilities. It is important to identify the organizations who take safety seriously so you know you’re not contributing to potentially preventable injuries.
The good news is there are many great ways to understand if your recycler is taking their employee health and safety programs seriously. These programs are not only a great representation of a legitimate and responsible recycler, but also require minimal effort to detect, especially during a site visit. When selecting a new recycler or auditing a current recycler the following elements can provide an overview of the fundamentals required to run a strong and effective safety program.
A safety program cannot run itself. Whether a safety professional is employed on the staff of the recycler or outsourced, a designated person and/or team must be held responsible for overseeing the safety program on-site.
The significance of selecting an individual or team to take ownership of this program is that it helps to ensure the program is effective and up to date.
This employee could also identify trends and areas for improvement to help prevent specific job-related safety risks. If nobody is assigned to this role, vulnerabilities can be overlooked and could result in employees at risk.
Safety, health, environment and community (SHEC) training is important for all employees and contractors, and is a critical tool to encourage and reinforce a positive attitude toward safety and health. In general, all employees and contractors should be capable of safely performing their activities with no adverse material impacts on the community or environment.
In order for employees to know and understand safe methods for conducting their job duties and responsibilities they must undergo comprehensive and regular training. This allows them to build and grow their foundation of safety knowledge.
The purpose of effective training is to shape the employee’s behavior to recognize risk and prevent harm. Successful programs, like that of Sims Recycling Solutions, involve extensive training and leadership supported by strong risk-based management systems and safe operating assets and infrastructure. Recommended programs provide all employees with proper “tools and techniques” and are separated into sessions for new employees, all general employees and managers.
Effective communication of all safety requirements and standards goes hand-in-hand with running a successful safety program. Regular communication of incidents and close calls can assist in achieving that core goal of shaping employee behavior to recognize risk and prevent harm to one’s self or peers.
These conversations (whether verbal or written reports) can provide positive encouragement for employees to practice safe behavior while challenging unsafe acts and conditions witnessed in the workplace.
Effective communication, while varying from organization-to-organization, can be designed to:
- Prevent injuries and property loss
- Reinforce positive safety behavior
- Identify and correct unsafe situations or acts
- Raise safety awareness
- Establish standards
- Test understanding of standards
- Test compliance with standards
- Identify weaknesses in safety systems
- Motivate people
While these efforts are primarily handled internally, it can’t hurt to request an overview of your recycler’s communications, tools and techniques.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Upon entering a complex electronics recycling facility, PPE should always be required. This equipment can range from hard hats, hearing protection, safety glasses, protective footwear, high-visibility vests, and more. In addition to PPE, it is common for a tour guide to be required to walk visitors through the facility to ensure their safety when walking through pathways of material and crossing forklift traffic.
It is recommended to pay attention to the protective equipment supplied to the employees and visitors on-site, along with the signage and work stations throughout the facility.
Any strong program involves reporting and tracking to identify areas of improvement and track progress along the way. For example, internal analysis of employee safety figures at Sims Recycling Solutions disclosed the credibility of increased training and awareness. In 2008 the amount of injuries to employees was at 29 percent but as training programs improved results revealed last year’s ratio to be only 6 percent – a 383 percent reduction – showing that although the amount of employees almost tripled, injury reports took a notable dive.
Other industry benchmarks include total recordable cases and injury reports. Most recyclers can compare these industry reports to those of their competitors to better understand their safety performance. Sims Recycling Solutions is proud to hold half the amount of total recordable cases as compared to the industry standard.
Many recyclers now are obtaining various certifications that apply to different aspects of their facility operations. A common certificate to look for regarding safety is the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS) 18001 certification. The standards required for OHSAS 18001 are common in the industry and comparable to that of the e-Stewards certification. These two widely recognized certifications (which Sims maintains at all U.S. sites) exist to help organizations demonstrate occupational health and safety performance.
There are no limits on how safe a workplace can be. Choosing to work with a recycler that goes above and beyond standard requirements is a good indication of what to expect of their integrity when managing assets as well. While hazards exist within the electronics recycling process, most incidences are preventable and working with the right recycler can provide assurances to organizations that they are not contributing to any environmental and safety disasters in developing countries.