There was a scream and immediately I knew something went wildly wrong. It just took a second and a foot was smashed between two forklift tires. The tragedy, while did not take a life, was painfully lived for years. The loss of a limb, mobility and a career. Relationships can crumble from the burden of one trying to recapture life after a workplace accident. Workplace injuries are life changing!

When I first started working at a scrap-metal processing business, I quickly noticed many of the older employees where missing fingers. It was a symbol of pride among the guys in the scrap-metal business. The use of metal cutting machines is common and guards where seldom used. Although management apposed the thought I often wondered if some of these guys would self-inflict such as a tattoo. The cutting copper, brass and other high value metals from scrap is a common money making practice. Well it was the early 1990’s and things where a changing in the scrap-metal industry. Younger college degree supervisors where being hired, and monthly safety meetings implemented to reduce metal upgrading injuries.

Any safety program starts with the owners and operation managers. There must be a true desire to reduce injuries and loss of life in upper management. It takes a culture shift and sometimes foolish employees just need to be replaced. I read that many accidents today happen to labor that are over 50. You’d think the older employees would know to be safe? The problem is old habits are hard to break. Millennials in the US are inundated with safety from the earliest age. Houses are baby proofed! Everything from outlets, drawers, stairs and ranges are out of reach or commission as the baby grows. Drinking and driving for a Millennial is an absolute no-no! We’re a safety obsessed society today. The problem is Millennials don’t know how to stay safe in industrial locations, but the great thing is they are willing to learn.

Once scrap-metal owners and managers are on board a safety program budget can be implemented. The following are general processes for scrap-metal yards:

1. Equipment must have all approved guards in place.
2. Employees should be trained, and training recorded for all equipment operation.
3. Lock-out tag-out procedures should be in place for every piece of powered equipment.
4. Lifting chains, forks, barrels and other material handling tools should all be certified per the weight being moved.
5. High visibility clothing should be worn at all times.
6. Reflective high visibility clothing should be worn around any moving equipment.
7. Crews should be identified by unique colored vests based on their department or service group. This includes management.
8. All required personal protective equipment should always be worn. This includes a protective high visibility uniform, hard hat, gloves, eye protection, steel toe boots and other specialized clothing dependent of the job hazards.
9. Regular maintenance should be done on all equipment to assure proper operation and to fix any hazard.
10. Floors need to be clean of dirt, metal, water, ice, oil and other hazards.
11. Fire extinguishers must be made available, mounted properly, refilled per regulation and distributed in the correct locations. Remember that fire extinguishers are not all the same. You must have a professional review the work area hazards to provide the correct volume and extinguishing suppressant.
12. Be prepared for fires by properly marking exits, keep exists clear and take notes when inspected by the fire marshal.
13. Never allow employees to enter enclosed spaces without professional training, safety equipment and supervision.
14. Know your metals and air born contaminates. These can be released by burning, breaking or cutting various metals.
15. Employees should change clothing every day before leaving for home. Ten sets of high-visibility uniforms should be provided so that five will be ready for the week while five are being properly cleaned by a professional uniform company. Warn employees not to contaminate their families with lead and other contaminates from scrap metals.
16. Schedule monthly management safety meetings and hold them accountable to following the rules.
17. Every employee must attend their departments weekly safety meeting to assure procedures are followed and dangers can be reported.
18. Start a company wide promotion for safety. Posters, signs and apparel should be branded with the current safety goal. These can be annual or semi-annual programs highlighted by company wide goal achievement celebrations.
19. Create incentives for your employees to be safe. These can be mental, competitive or gift driven rewards for days, months and years for being safe.
20. Management must actively participate in the safety program. All safety PPE must be worn, good safety practicing employees need a pat on the back and their own safety record should be good.

These are only twenty imperative safety programs that must be implemented at every scrap yard. There are many other positive safety programs such as wellness checks and so on. The health and well fair of the employees should be important for all owners and managers at metal recycling facilities. Ensuring good safety practices can prevent painful scrap-metal upgrading injuries, save lives and improve productivity.

“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. read more”

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