Occupational Health issues


Within the waste management and recycling industry, some key health hazards include:

  • Bioaerosols
  • Needlestick injuries
  • Personal hygiene
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)
  • Noise

This document includes guidance on:

  • Infectious media found in waste
  • The routes to infection
  • Preventive and protective measures
  • Health surveillance

Bioaerosols 'Green and food waste'

Green and food waste includes biodegradable waste such as garden or park waste (grass, flower cuttings and hedge trimmings) as well as domestic and commercial food waste.

The majority of the waste is utilised in the manufacture of compost or in energy recovery processes such as Anaerobic Digestion.

Green and food waste collection - health issues

When green waste is left, microbes grow quickly in the warm, moist environment.  Collecting and handling green waste creates bioaerosols (microbes suspended with dust in the air) and these are breathed in when working.  Research suggests that the health risks of breathing in these microbes from handling green waste are no greater than those from handling any other mixed household waste.

Good practice to reduce green waste dust by operating a system of controls that help minimise dust clouds is set out in the following guidance written in consultation with the Waste Industry Safety and Health Forum (WISH).

Discarded needles

The issue of dealing with drug-related litter, and especially needles, remains a matter of concern. WISH has produced guidance on this issue in Handling needles in the waste and recycling industry

Personal hygiene

Statistics for lost working time attributable to poor health education and poor personal hygiene practices remain unreliable since many absences are of short duration, or their causality can be questionable. Consequently, such incidents do not often feature in RIDDOR data. However, one examination of a local authority suggested that some 30% of lost time may be caused by:

  • poor hygiene education;
  • lack of adequate washing facilities;
  • poor personal hygiene practices among staff.

The provision of adequate washing facilities is important. Antiseptic hand wipes alone may be insufficient for refuse collection workers who may need to deal with skin contact with poisons and aggressive acids/alkalis.

  • These facilities will have more usage than in usual industrial situations and should be sufficiently robust to account for this. They should also be designed to be easily cleaned because of the amount of waste, dust and other residues that will be deposited.
  • Good personal hygiene is vital for waste and recycling workers so as to prevent infections and other ill health caused by working with waste. The quality and performance of the washing facilities should reflect this need and be of a high standard.
  • Provide adequate education and training to ensure workers understand the importance of hygiene and utilise the facilities that are available.

WISH have produced a convenient pocket-sized card, which requires minimal understanding of written English. It is aimed at improving the understanding of the importance of maintaining good health amongst waste workers.

Stay clean - stay healthy. Looking after your health in the waste/recycling industry

HSE also produces a workers' pocket card advising on Leptospirosis (Weil's Disease) which can be transmitted by handling waste that has been infected by rats.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Musculoskeletal disorders account for approximately one third of all reported injuries in the industry, the majority of these being associated with collection activities, and can be both acute (sudden injury) or chronic (cumulative injury). There are sources of information and guidance throughout the HSE website, both waste management and recycling industry guidance and general guidance to be found at the HSE's MSD portal.


Noise-induced hearing loss is a matter of concern and can occur within the industry at:

  • Kerbside glass collections when the methods of glass collection, the equipment provided and/or the personal protective equipment has not been adequately risk assessed and effective preventive measures taken.
  • Material recovery facilities (and similar facilities) where acoustic barriers or similar preventive measures have not been provided to attenuate the noise coming from process machinery (eg separation magnets, eddy current separators, drive motors etc).

General guidance can be found on the HSE's Noise website.


Large amounts of asbestos were used in new and refurbished buildings before 2000. Usage began to decline in the 1970s and blue asbestos (crocidolite) had a voluntary ban in 1970. Blue and brown (amosite) asbestos were banned by law in 1985. Asbestos-related diseases kill more people than any other single work-related cause. All types of asbestos can be dangerous if disturbed.

Asbestos health and safety


Asbestos waste should be disposed of properly and in accordance with Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency requirements.

Following demolition and refurbishment work, asbestos debris can end up in waste disposal streams. This should take place in a properly controlled manner ie contractors utilising properly licensed transportation and disposal activities, or through civic amenity collection facilities the general public. There is guidance available on the  Safe handling of asbestos waste at civic amenity (CA) sites. Your local authority can provide details of these sites for you

However, it is possible that incorrectly or illegally disposed of asbestos could be encountered in various waste streams eg in skip-hire and waste transfer operations. Operators of facilities where there is a potential to encounter asbestos waste should ensure that their workforce have suitable asbestos awareness training to identify 'rogue' materials and ensure that suitable safe systems of work are adhered to when asbestos waste is identified and has to be dealt with.

More  information on the disposal of asbestos waste can be found in: Disposal of asbestos waste . For advice on fly-tipped asbestos, see: How to deal with fly-tipped asbestos waste.


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Updated 2021-06-30