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Landfill Safety - Reduce Hazardous Waste Exposures

Updated on November 15, 2009

Every day landfill workers may be exposed to dangerous hazardous substances including flammable, corrosive, or reactive materials; biological or radioactive substances; sharps; asbestos or lead; and compressed gases. These wastes can cause injury or illness by punctures and absorption through the skin, inhalation, or through contact with disease vectors like rodents and insects. Even though landfill managers must screen incoming wastes for hazardous materials, all solid waste workers should be trained to recognize hazardous materials and know how to avoid exposure to them.

Symbol for biohazards.
Symbol for biohazards.

Step 1

Instruct workers to always assume the worst case when working around waste materials. Mandate that they wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment to protect their skin, eyes, mouth, and nose, and avoid cuts to the skin or contact with chemicals. Provide workers with hand tools to minimize manual contact with waste, and strictly forbid scavenging. Also train them to react to identifiers of potentially hazardous or unauthorized waste. Labels, warning stickers, unusual odors, container type, and waste form offer clues as to the content or composition of wastes.

Step 2

To protect against airborne contamination, workers should avoid causing or working in dust clouds.  If mechanical means, such as dust extraction or filtering systems, cannot eliminate airborne waste then workers must use appropriate masks or respirators to prevent harmful exposures.  Mask and respirator selection should be made by a competent person to ensure they provide the correct protection for the situation or environment.

Rats carry disease.
Rats carry disease.

Step 3

Disease vector control is important because birds, rodents, insects, and their waste products may transmit bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections through bites or direct contact with infected material. Avoid contact with animals and insects and the areas where they may live. Eliminate potential food and shelter sources and maintain good housekeeping.

Workers must also practice good personal hygiene and keep hands away from the nose, eyes, and mouth until they can be washed with soap and running water before eating, drinking, or smoking. Minimum vaccination requirements for solid waste workers should include tetanus and, possibly, hepatitis A.  Encourage workers to seek prompt medical attention following exposures or suspected exposures to disease vectors and be sure to let their physicians know the work they do.

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