Coronavirus Safety Guidelines for the Waste Management Industry
Solid waste management and recycling trade associations issue coronavirus safety guidelines to ensure the health and safety of workers in the waste industry.
Are Workers at Risk of Occupational Exposure to Viruses at Solid Waste Management Facilities?
Workers in the solid waste management and recycling sector routinely face a high risk of occupational exposure to biological aerosols, minute airborne particles either originating from living organisms (such as pollen or pet dander) or which are living organisms themselves (viruses and bacteria for example). While there have never been any reported cases of infectious diseases resulting from work-related exposure to these potentially harmful biohazards, a scientific study found bacteria and virus pathogens on various surfaces at different waste treatment facilities, confirming that waste management staff are indeed threatened by occupational exposure to bacteria and viruses while doing their jobs, with workers assigned to paper selection landfills being exposed to the highest level of viral contamination.
Following the Solid Waste Management Association of North America's (SWANA's) March 12th announcement to postpone the upcoming SWANApalooza conference, which was scheduled for the end of March, due to rising concerns in the US over the spread of COVID-19 cases resulting from the new coronavirus, key role players in the waste management sector have expressed concerns that workers in the waste and recycling industries may be vulnerable to occupational exposure to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus Safety Guidelines and Resources
SWANA, together with the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) have released guidelines and resources to help ensure the safety of workers in the waste management industry.
The Solid Waste Management Association of North America (SWANA) have published coronavirus safety guidelines on their website which suggest that currently no special precautions to protect waste workers from COVID-19 are recommended when handling municipal solid waste" outside of conventional safety practices. However, SWANA cautioned that any waste that is thought to be potentially contaminated should be handled in the same manner as regulated medical waste, with waste handlers being instructed to use appropriate engineering equipment and personal protective equipment, and to follow appropriate administrative protocols.
It recommends that employees separate sick workers, encouraging them to self-isolate at home until they are well enough to return to work. Routine disinfecting of the work environment is also recommended, together with following the guidelines put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Staff who have family members that are sick are encouraged to inform their supervisors.
While the number of deaths from the coronavirus worldwide have been alarming, the coronavirus is not considered a Category A infectious substance, meaning it is not expected to cause death or permanent disability when encountered by otherwise healthy humans and animals. Vulnerable members of the population who face a greater risk of death if infected include the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions or compromised immune systems. These are the people who need to take extra precautionary measures and who we need to protect the most.
The latest coronavirus safety guidelines released by NWRA's Healthcare Waste Institute advises workers in the industry to handle waste received from homes where patients infected with COVID-19 reside in the same manner as they would handle waste received from those suffering with the flu.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), which published a webinar on the impacts of the coronavirus to the scrap industry, also provides online guidance advising its members to follow health instructions outlined by the CDC and where necessary to modify them according to the needs of recyclers.
Links to Coronavirus Safety Guidelines
- SWANA Coronavirus Safety Guidelines
- NWRA Healthcare Waste Institute Coronavirus Safety Guidelines
- ISIR Coronavirus Safety Guidelines
- ISIR Coronavirus Information Webinar
Carducci A, et al. Virus Occupational Exposure in Solid Waste Processing Facilities. The Annals of Occupational Hygiene, Volume 57, Issue 9, November 2013, Pages 1115-1127, doi: 10.1093/annhyg/met043