Each day, waste and recycling workers carry out physically demanding work that often requires lifting. Lifting too much or lifting the wrong way can put excessive strain on an employee’s back and has the potential for a serious injury. Safety training and proper techniques will help employees avoid injury from lifting heavy loads.
By Will Flower

Proper PPE, including gloves that allow a good grip, are important when lifting large, bulky items.

People in the waste and recycling industry are tough. All day long drivers and helpers routinely lift trash cans, recycling bins, and bags. But even the strongest worker can get injured by improperly lifting a heavy or non-balanced item.

Take Precaution
To protect workers, safety professionals should regularly review lifting techniques with employees during safety meetings. Workers need to be reminded of the precautions to take to protect their muscles and backs. Special care is especially important when workers are lifting bulky waste items that may be awkward in size, shape and balance. Remember these tips for lifting:

• Stretch and warm up. The work is physically demanding and muscles should be properly stretched and warmed up prior to lifting heavy loads.
• Wear proper shoes and gloves. Sturdy shoes will provide good footing while good gloves will provide grip when you lift.
• Before lifting a waste container, move it slightly to gauge the weight. Remember, you cannot judge the weight of a container by looking at it. While one residential container may be light, the next one could be super heavy.
• Survey the area to make sure the walking surface is free of trip and slip hazards.
• Grip the object firmly.
• Lift properly and slowly, with knees bent and back straight.
• Let the legs do the lifting.
• Avoid twisting your body.
• If two people are lifting, have one person direct the move. Both employees should keep their knees bent and back straight as they lift the load together.

Take extra care when lifting large items into a collection vehicle. Drivers should avoid twisting their back and use their leg muscles to ensure a safe lift.
Photos courtesy of Will Flower.

Injuries Are Preventable
Back strain and muscle sprain are the most common type of injury facing workers who collect waste and recyclables. These injuries can be extremely painful and result in lost time and visits to doctors. The good news is that lifting injuries are preventable by using good lifting techniques and maintaining good physical conditioning. | WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 38 years of experience in the area of solid waste management and environmental protection. He has held operational and executive leadership positions at the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc., Republic Services. Inc. and Green Stream Recycling. Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at will@wintersbros.com.