Waste handling at Swedish recycling centres : work environment and risks

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköpings universitet

Abstract: The amount of household waste generated in Sweden is increasing. Not many years ago, a majority of this was landfilled. Today, 95% of Swedish household waste is either incinerated with energy recovery, material recycled, or biologically treated. This adaptation process has resulted in new employment opportunities, where the overall focus in general has been on external environmental targets, rather than prioritising the work environment.In Sweden, the importance of staffed recycling centres for collection and initial sorting of mainly large-sized and hazardous waste, as well as electrical and electronic waste, has increased during the last few years. There are approximately 700 recycling centres in Sweden. Recycling centres constitute a relatively new area within the emerging recycling sector, which might lead to new and unknown work environment problems. Previous research concerning the work environment at Swedish recycling centres and their international equivalents is very limited.The aim of this thesis was to contribute to usable and applicable knowledge about Swedish recycling centres, focusing on work environment and risks. The thesis is mainly based on three studies, which used different methods to identify and analyse risks in the work environment and occupational accidents that occur at recycling centres.It is concluded that employees at recycling centres are very frequently exposed to occupational accidents, a majority of which are associated with manual material handling. In addition, accidents are under-reported to a high degree, which implies reduced opportunities for preventing similar accidents in the future. The recycling centres studied had in general poor access to technical equipment for lifting and transporting waste, which contributed to manual material handling. During this handling, physically demanding work, involving heavy manual lifting and work in awkward postures, was common. Although several physical risks in the work environment were identified and the frequency of accidents was high, the employees in general expressed that their work environment was safe. Their awareness of risks in the work environment needs to be improved, in order to create a safer environment for both employees and visitors at recycling centres.The psychosocial work environment is in general positive, with many social contacts. However, burglary and menacing visitors are growing problems, which are associated with increased insecurity in the employees' daily work.Today, the layout of recycling centres varies considerably. It is therefore important to review the work environment and utilise the employees' knowledge and experience, including their suggestions for improvements in the work environment at each centre. The results and suggestions presented in this thesis could be one starting point for creating recycling centres with a good work environment.

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