The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requests assistance in preventing deaths and injuries among workers who load, operate, or work near refuse compacting or baling equipment. Recent NIOSH investigations suggest that worker injuries and deaths could be prevented by using safe work procedures, appropriate safety devices, and hazardous energy control programs designed to address the hazards of operating, maintaining, and servicing compacting and baling equipment. This Alert describes five cases of fatal injuries that resulted when workers entered, fell, or were caught and pulled into energized compacting or baling equipment. All managers, supervisors, and workers in companies that use compacting or baling equipment should follow the recommendations in this Alert. NIOSH requests that equipment manufacturers, safety and health officials, industry associations, unions, and editors of trade journals bring the recommendations in this Alert to the attention of all employers and workers who use compacting and baling equipment. Compacting and baling equipment reduces large amounts of solid waste to smaller, more manageable units by means of powered rams. These machines may be used by manufacturing companies to compact and bale large amounts of scrap and waste materials such as paper, cotton, and metals, and by retail and service industries to compress paper and cardboard boxes. Compactors compress the refuse material into containers for transport. Baling equipment is designed to compress material and produce a bale (bound or unbound) that can be handled and transported as a material unit. Compacting and baling equipment are available in many sizes and configurations. These machines may have one or more rams for compressing materials or extruding bales. The rams may move vertically or horizontally. Some types of equipment allow direct access to the compression chamber. Others have a hopper or chute through which material feeds into the machine. In businesses where refuse processing is incidental to the primary operation (such as in retail and service industries), loading and compressing may be done as separate work activities-that is, material may be intermittently loaded until the chamber is full and then compressed. Alternatively, in businesses where compressing scrap and waste materials is the primary operation or where large volumes of refuse materials are processed daily, loading and compressing is a continuous operation. Machines may operate in a manual, semiautomatic, or automatic mode. In the manual mode, a switch operated by a worker controls ram motion. In the semiautomatic mode, an operator initiates the compression, after which the machine automatically completes the cycle. In the automatic mode, a sensor inside the compression chamber signals when the chamber is full and activates the compression cycle. Because of the widespread use of compactors and balers across varied industries, it is difficult to obtain exact numbers of workers who are exposed to the hazards of this equipment. The workers most likely to be exposed to risk from compacting and baling equipment are those in the wholesale trade and transportation/public utilities industries engaged in recycling and the collection and disposal of refuse. Employees working in manufacturing settings and in retail and service trades may also be at risk because of the large volume of waste generated and processed daily.
Dr. Nancy Stout, Director; Division of Safety Research National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 1095 Willowdale Road Morgantown, WV 26505-2888