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Workplace accidents startling high in recycling industry

People in North Carolina and across the rest of the United States recently observed Earth Day. With a focus on reducing, reusing and recycling, many individuals feel confident that putting their blue bins curbside is making an important change. While recycling might be good for the planet, the process is not so good for its workers. Workplace accidents are a common feature of recycling plants.

The recycling industry is varied, and operations can range from small centers where items can be dropped off to large operations that handle typical recycled objects in addition to oil and electronic waste. While incredibly different from one another, most of them have conditions that are exceptionally hazardous to workers. The former director of an out-of-state organization focused on improving these conditions points out these jobs typically offer meager pay and are not otherwise good work opportunities.

Scrap yards, which represent a significant sector in the recycling industry, had a 2014 fatality rate that left nearly 21 workers out of every 100,000 dead from an on-the-job injury. Between 2003 and 2014, approximately 313 scrap yard workers were killed. Manufacturing -- an inherently dangerous industry in and of itself -- has a fatality rate nine times smaller than recycling. The number of industry-wide deaths is not clear as there is currently no system in place to track deaths across the entire network of the recycling process.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration issues safety citations to sorting facilities and scrap yards at a rate that is 80 percent higher than the national average. With a focus on improving the planet for humans and other animal life, there seems to be a lack of respect for human life during the actual recycling process. Families who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents understand how difficult it can be to overcome the sudden loss of a breadwinner, but there are still options to help them move forward. Workers' compensation offers temporary death benefits to North Carolina families to help them bridge the financial gap and continue to meet daily and long-term expenses.

Source: oregonlive.com, "Recycling work: Low pay, poor training, hazardous tasks", Brian Joseph, April 12, 2016

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