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RR1151 - Dust and bioaerosol exposure at municipal waste handling sites

Improvements in health and safety performance in the waste sector is a priority for HSE. Government targets for reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill have led to an increase in processing of municipal waste to reclaim recyclable material and produce biomass fuel for energy. The collection, separation and composting of municipal waste generates organic dust and bioaerosols which may cause occupational health problems if worker exposure is not effectively controlled.

This report describe research to better understand the health risks to workers during bulk handling of organic waste at waste transfer stations, mechanical and biological treatment plants and energy from waste power station. To highlight what control standards are achievable, only companies recognised as employing good health risk management practices were recruited for this study. Data and information was obtained during 13 site visits.

The research identified that whilst worker exposures generally were relatively low, three activities did pose a risk of higher exposure to dust, endotoxin, fungi and bacteria: (i) cleaning and maintenance, (ii) sorting and refining after bio-drying: and (iii) hand sorting recovered dry cell batteries. Advances in plant and process design have helped to minimise the number of workers exposed and to improve exposure control. However, further improvements can be made, particularly in the design of engineering controls to prevent spillages and subsequent exposure, and in methods to minimise exposure during cleaning and maintenance activities.

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Updated 2020-01-10