12 May 2006

HSE report calls for limit to size of recycling boxes

A major report from the Health and Safety Executive has warned that kerbside recycling boxes above 40 litres in size can breach safety guidelines for lifting, writes James Cartledge.

Exclusively revealed to letsrecycle.com today, the new HSE report lays out the results of a study of kerbside collection schemes for recyclable materials, and in the sorting of materials on or alongside vehicles.

Large kerbside recycling boxes can cause back strains above limits recommended by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the HSE says

Laboratory tests showed that kerbside boxes could be filled with glass and paper to a weight as high as 22.1kg – almost one third of the weight of the average adult male.

This weight exceeds the recommended limit for back strain given by America's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the HSE report said. When lifted in the usual stooping position adopted by collection operatives, kerbside boxes should contain no more than 13kg of material to keep within the guidelines, it recommended.

Researchers led by Dr Andrew Pinder suggested that wheeled bins were best for collecting recyclables, but that where kerbside boxes had to be used, they should be no more than 40 litres in capacity.

It recommended: “Where boxes are used, reduce the capacity of the boxes to at most 40 litres to provide a method of weight control. The maximum weight observed for a 40 litre box containing mixed glass and newspaper, including a lid, was 12.8 kg. This figure is below the level likely to exceed the NIOSH 3.4kN biomechanical criterion. Also, this weight is acceptable to at least 90% of the British male adult population.”

Other recommendations were for collections to be run weekly to cut down on the accumulation of weighty materials, for lids to be used to limit weight and for boxes to be used for collecting only light materials – not paper or glass.

The report came following a study of three different types of council kerbside recycling scheme, using 55-litre boxes. Researchers visited local authorities in the South West, Midlands and North East of England from October to December 2005.

Collection crews should always use two hands to handle kerbside boxes, and the report warned strongly against using vehicles in which staff would have to lift boxes above shoulder height.

One suggestion within the report was for kerbside boxes to be placed in a wheeled bin-like “recycling station” to be wheeled towards the collection vehicle. It warned that carrying kerbside boxes more than 10m reduced visibility for collection staff, and could lead to trips and slips, a common injury among operatives.

As well as a limit on box capacity, the report recommended that kerbside boxes should be designed with handles separate from the rim, such that protective gloves can be worn by collection staff.

Related links:

HSE report on kerbside recycling

The report also called for box rims to be made wide enough for the containers to be supported on vehicles while operatives sorted materials.

Entitled Manual handling in kerbside collection and
sorting of recyclables
, the report is now available on the Health and Safety Executive website.

  • Health and safety issues involving recycling schemes and vehicles are to be discussed at a free outdoor seminar at the letsrecycle.com Live! Event at Stoneleigh Park near Coventry on May 31, with speakers including HSE principal inspector Paul Harvey. See letsrecycle.com/live to register free.

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