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Clean & healthy: keeping a paper recycling plant clean goes hand-in-hand with keeping it safe. (2002 Paper Recycling Supplement).

Paper recyclers compete with each other vigorously for material, but they can all agree on one thing: No one wins when safety is sacrificed in the production process.

High-volume recyclers always have one eye on the bottom line, but they had better keep the other eye open for potential safety hazards and sloppy practices that can lead to workplace accidents.

In two separate presentations at the Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show, held this June in New Orleans, attendees learned about the potential dangers of balers and conveyors as well as some keys to properly maintaining their plants and equipment.

Although the two topics may not seem to have a lot in common, attendees at both presentations learned that keeping a clean, well-lit plant can go a long way to keeping a facility free from lost work-time accidents.


Recycling plant workers spend day after day near conveyor belts and balers, often not considering the potential dangers of these powerful motor-driven machines. But the dangers are very real, director of risk management Mike Mattia of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) told attendees of a safety seminar held at the 2002 Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show.

Mattia, who has helped produce a series of safety videos for the recycling organization, noted that conveyors and balers have caused a high percentage of the fatalities and severe injuries in the recycling industry. In the `past dozen years, conveyors have been the cause of some 200 fatalities in North America, with seven of those occurring within the recycling industry.

Conveyors may move slowly and seemingly harmlessly, but Mattia noted that the power used to drive a long conveyor system could create torque at certain points that is "like putting a 3,500-pound weight on your arm."

A majority of fatalities involve individuals walking underneath conveyors and coming in contact with "nip points," where a wheel is in counter-motion against the prevailing direction of the conveyor.

For recyclers in particular, balers are particularly dangerous. Since 1986, there have been 43 fatalities involving balers used in recycling applications. Of those, 29 have involved horizontal balers that were baling scrap paper.

Mattia says baler jams in configurations where conveyors lead up to top-fed balers often lead to disaster. Workers may climb a stopped conveyor to unclog a jam, only to fall into the baler when the jam suddenly gives way. If the baler has not been shut off along with the conveyor, the baler's automatic sensor may begin a baling cycle when the worker and the jammed paper fall into the baling chamber.

Mattia urged recyclers to "think about the baler in your facility. How do you free it when there is a jam?" He also urged plant operators to wire interlocking systems, so that when a conveyor is shut off, the baler is also shut off, and vice versa.

An additional hazard--resulting in 14 deaths in the past 12 years--involves completed bales in storage falling onto workers. Uneven stacks or heavier bales stacked on top of lighter ones can cause stacked bales to topple.

Mattia noted that paper recyclers are particularly subject to both baler accidents and tipped bale accidents, in part because there is not the same "respect" for paper as there is for metal. Forklift drivers will drive carefully near stacked metal bales, in part because they don't want to get cut by jagged metal or to damage their vehicles.

In paperstock plants, this is not as much of a consideration, so forklifts are more likely to cut a close corner, possibly jostling and tipping a stack of bales. Similarly, in a metals plant, "no one walks over a conveyor of jagged metal" to clear a bottleneck, noted Mattia, but walking over cardboard seems less dangerous.

Thorough safety training followed by the evaluation of safety practices for each worker is important procedures for paper recyclers to have in place, said Mattia. "New employees are the most vulnerable to major accidents," he stated.


Business owners are familiar with maintenance costs as a line item, but zeroing that line item out of a recycling company budget ultimately will prove even costlier. That was the message Buddy Himes of Himes Service Co., Waco, Texas, had for attendees of his Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show session.

"For some plant operators, maintenance is a dirty word," Himes commented. "It interferes with production so they don't feel there is time for it, or employees are too busy repairing what is broke to be involved with preventive maintenance."

But if plant operators can get over these and other barriers, they ultimately will be better off with a preventive maintenance schedule in place, said Himes. "Standard maintenance means when something is broke, you've got to fix it. Preventive maintenance means you tighten the bolt before it breaks, so you don't have to fix it."

One barrier to putting a maintenance plan in place at many recycling plants is finding adequate personnel, Himes noted. "The hardest thing to do is to find qualified personnel. You might get someone with a little welding or electrical experience, but that person wants good compensation--more than recycling plants want to pay. But that's the person you need to have if you want your equipment up and running."

Equipment that is kept clean and operating smoothly also is less likely to need quick emergency fixes from production workers, who might take risks clearing out clogged up material or accumulated dirt from running equipment. These types of free-lance interventions can result in the accidents described by Mattia at his session.

For many repair and maintenance tasks, two people may be necessary, said Himes, although most recycling plants cannot afford two full-time maintenance people. "Plant operators may wish to find an outside contractor to schedule regular preventive maintenance," Himes suggested.

Among the tasks plant operators should not neglect, according to Himes, are maintaining the baler shearing blade gap distance to manufacturer specifications, sharpening the baler blade periodically, taking oil samples from machines every six months and keeping an inventory of spare parts and a list of which nearby vendors carry spare parts.

Cleanliness should not be discounted as a maintenance task either, said Himes. "Housekeeping is an important part of maintenance," he remarked. Himes showed slides of such things as cooling vents blocked with dirt that would eventually lead to a conveyor motor overheating. Cleaning underneath pit conveyors, though unpleasant, can ultimately prevent a downtime situation, he also noted.

Himes estimated that in a good program, "75 percent of all maintenance work should be preventive maintenance."

He noted that workers and plant owners who would never dream of neglecting a $45,000 automobile should take the same attitude toward how they treat a $250,000 baler.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via e-mail at
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Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Previous Article:Side orders: some paper recyclers are choosing to cushion against down cycles with additional business ventures. (2002 Paper Recycling Supplement).
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