Balers and compactors have electric motors, infeed conveyors, high-pressure hydraulics and pistons, which can present potential hazards for people who are operating or working near these types of machines.
By Will Flower

Balers are big, powerful machines that are commonly used at recycling centers and transfer stations to compress large amounts of waste or recyclables into tightly compacted bales for space-saving storage and efficient shipping. Compactors are found at big commercial establishments that need to manage large volumes of wastes and recyclables. Compactors press material into a container which, when full, is transported for disposal.

Balers and compactors are designed and engineered with a number of safeguards to keep employees safe. Prior to operating the baler, employees must be trained by a qualified instructor. Operators should have a thorough understanding of the control panel, the operations manual, the safety features and the inspection process for the machinery. Employees must also know the Lock Out/Tag Out protocol to de-energize a machine and prevent the accidental or unintentional movement while employees are working on a machine. All training should be documented. It is important to note that the Department of Labor has issued a Hazardous Occupations Order (HO 12), which prohibits minors under 18 years of age from loading, operating, and unloading certain power-driven processing machines, including balers and compactors.


Operation Tips
The following are some tips for operating a baler or compactor.

Inspect the Baler or Compactor
There are many components and moving parts in balers and compactors. A best practice is to regularly inspect the machine to ensure it is operating properly. The inspection should include a review of hoses for cracks, bulges, loose connections and leaks. The inspection should also look at the metal frame, weld points, and piston mounts for signs of metal fatigue or stress. Electrical wires should be examined for cuts, breaks and wear spots. If repairs are needed, the baler should be taken out of service until a mechanic can repair the machine and it is safe to use again.
Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Workers must wear high visibility safety vests, hard hats, gloves, goggles, and hearing protection when operating waste balers and compactors. Proper footwear, including the use of steel toe boots, may be required to protect feet when bales are extruded from the machine.

Follow the Warning Signs
Warning signs should be affixed to the machines to warn of pinch points, electrical shock and other hazards. Warning signs should be clearly visible. Printing signs in multiple languages should be done when employees use English as a second language.

Make Sure Machine Guards are in Use
Guards that cover moving parts must be in place to prevent workers from reaching into a machine that is in operation. Do not use a compactor or a baler if the guards have been removed.


Know and Use Lock Out/Tag Out Protocol
Failing to Lock Out/Tag Out a machine can result in serious injury or death. Any time a person works on a baler, the machine should be locked out and tagged out to prevent the unintentional startup of the equipment. Disconnecting the power supply and de-energizing the machine is necessary prior to clearing a jam:

  • Never reach into or climb inside a baler or compactor. Use a reaching tool to resolve a problem with a jam.
  • Always leave the compactor in the “off” position when not in use. Only trained workers should use a compactor. Unauthorized people should not use compactors or baling equipment. Remove the key and deactivate the power when the compactor is not in use.
  • Use fall protection. Compactors and balers can be tall pieces of equipment. Employees who are working from heights must use fall protection. Employers need to provide safety harnesses and physical barriers for workers who are working on chutes and infeed conveyors where slips and falls can result in injury.
  • Stack bales with care. The baler will produce big, heavy bales. Make sure that forklift operators are trained to properly move and stack bales in a storage area. Bales should be stacked neatly and securely to prevent a potential disaster if a bale falls and crushes a worker.

Proper Training
There are far too many cases where employees have been killed or seriously injured because they failed to follow safe operating procedures. Following the manufacturer’s safety recommendations along with proper training and regular inspection of equipment will help keep employees safe and decrease the risk associated with balers and compactors. | WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 37 years of experience in the field 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.

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