U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

Identification and control of safety and health hazards in metal scrap recycling

The audience for this guide is anyone who works in the metal scrap recycling industry—employers, employees, safety professionals, and industrial hygienists—should read this publication. This guide can help you identify and manage the hazards associated with exposure to various metals and processing chemicals and with related processes and equipment used in metal scrap recycling operations. Why is this guide important? Metal scrap recycling, also called secondary metal processing, is a large industry that processes, in the U.S. alone, 56 million tons of scrap iron and steel (including 10 million tons of scrap automobiles), 1.5 million tons of scrap copper, 2.5 million tons of scrap aluminum, 1.3 million tons of scrap lead, 300,000 tons of scrap zinc and 800,000 tons of scrap stainless steel, and smaller quantities of other metals, on a yearly basis. (ISRI NDa)

Scrap metals, in general, are divided into two basic categories: ferrous and nonferrous. Ferrous scrap is metal that contains iron, while nonferrous metals are metals that do not contain iron. These two basic categories of metals are described in further detail in the section, “Types of Metals Most Commonly Recycled” in the “Commonly Recycled Metals and Their Sources” chapter of this guide. Many employees are employed by scrap metal recycling industries.

Private, nonferrous recycling industries in the U.S. employed approximately 16,000 employees in 2001.1 (Figures were not available for ferrous recycling industries.) In 2001, those nonferrous recycling industries reported approximately 3,000 injuries and illnesses. The most common causes of illness were poisoning (e.g., lead or cadmium poisoning), disorders associated with repeated trauma, skin diseases or disorders, and respiratory conditions due to inhalation of, or other contact with, toxic agents. Of those injuries and illnesses, 701 cases involved days away from work.

The most common events or exposures leading to these cases were contact with an object or piece of equipment; overextension; and exposure to a harmful substance. The most common types of these injuries were sprains and strains; heat burns; and cuts, lacerations, and punctures. (BLS, 2003)

HowThis Guide Can Help

As an employer, this guide will help you protect your employees by helping you and your employees recognize, manage, and control the potential hazards associated with common metal scrap recycling processes. This guide will also assist safety professionals and industrial hygienists in their efforts to identify, evaluate, and develop appropriate controls for hazards related to metal scrap recycling processes.

What This Guide Covers

This document will assist employers and employees in recognizing and controlling typical health and safety hazards associated with various metal scrap recycling operations and in selecting appropriate control methods. This document does not provide an in-depth evaluation of every recycled material, or of every associated process-related hazard; rather it gives an overview of processes and related hazards common to a wide range of metal scrap recycling operations.

Employers must evaluate their own operations, processes, and equipment to ensure that all hazards in their operations are identified and appropriately controlled. There are many relevant guidance documents and standards related to exposure to hazardous substances (including metals), working in industrial environments, and working with specific types of material handling and processing equipment that may be associated with recycling processes.

This guidance document includes references to these documents throughout the text, along with short summaries where appropriate.

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