Waste is produced in a number of different ways and can take many different forms. Waste in general, can lead to the development of a wide range of health and safety problems, such as the transmission and intensification of diseases, especially if it is not dealt with in a safe and responsible manner. These health and safety concerns can affect everyone, from people who produce waste to those who collect, treat and store it. Furthermore, if waste is not handled safely, it can also negatively impact on the health and well-being of both the general public, as well as the environment. Thus, the proper disposal of waste is becoming a growing concern, especially in developing countries.

What Is Waste?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a waste is any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is being discarded by disposal, recycling, burning or incineration. Additionally, waste may also be considered as hazardous based on its origin and characteristics.

What Hazardous Substances Can Be Found in Waste?

Harmful substances that can be found in waste can be characterized as either chemicals or biological agents.

  • Chemicals include: pesticides, cleaning products, paint, bleach, batteries, etc.
  • Biological agents can be found in: human waste (e.g., from diapers), animal waste, food waste, medical waste (e.g., used syringes and needles), etc.

How Can These Hazardous Substances Enter the Body?

Chemicals and biological agents found in waste can enter the body via the following routes of exposures:

  • Contact with the skin, for instance, through cuts and abrasions, as well as via penetration from sharp objects
  • Ingestion or hand-to-mouth contact when eating, drinking or smoking
  • Inhalation, by breathing infectious droplets from the air

What Should Workplaces Do About Waste?

It is the duty of employers to ensure that the hazards and risks associated with waste are effectively dealt with so that they do not affect the health and safety of their workers, or negatively impact on the environment. The development and implementation of a workplace waste management programme is one of the most effective strategies in addressing the issue of waste in the workplace.

Developing a Workplace Waste Management Programme

A waste management programme is the company’s detailed written record of their goals for managing waste and the actions to be taken to achieve those goals. Here are some steps to consider when implementing such programme at your workplace.

  • Set a baseline to determine how much waste your company is currently producing, as well as take note of the type of waste that is being produced
  • Create a waste management team. These individuals will be responsible for managing waste in the workplace
  • Set goals and objectives using The Waste Hierarchy—Reduce amount produced, Reuse waste, Recover waste (recycling), and Dispose to landfill
  • Implement actions to achieve goals and objectives. It is more efficient to implement these procedures in stages
  • Monitor and adjust goals based on the results

More on the Waste Hierarchy…

The Waste Hierarchy ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment. The Waste Hierarchy is:

  • Avoidance, which includes actions to reduce the amount of waste being generated
  • Resource recovery, which includes actions to reduce the amount of waste being generated
  • Disposal, which focuses on the most sustainable disposal options

Controlling and Preventing Health Risks Associated With Waste in the Workplace

In addition to developing and implementing a workplace waste management programme, employers should provide and maintain general waste management control measures, such as:

  • Providing information, instruction, training and supervision. Employees should know how to work safely without putting their health and well-being at risk
  • Encourage workers to adopt proper hygiene practices. Additionally, employers should ensure that their employees are provided with the proper facilities to maintain effective hygiene practices, such as hand-washing facilities
  • Developing and implementing a health surveillance programme. This will allow for the early detection of ill health, especially if workers are exposed to substances hazardous to health
  • Consulting and engaging with workers. This is vital in order to ensure safe working practices in waste management activities
  • Providing workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to use when handling waste
  • Implementing specific control measures for skin diseases (e.g., dermatitis, skin cancer), chemical hazards, biological hazards (e.g., microorganisms naturally present in the soil and in vegetation, microorganisms from human and animal waste, microorganisms from animal infestations, blood-borne viruses), needle-stick and sharp injuries, etc. These specific control measures may vary and will be dependent on the nature of the work carried out by the organization

The Safe Handling of Workplace Waste

Not only is waste management crucial to the health and well-being of workers, it is also vital in reducing the organization’s impact on the environment. Every year, thousands of workers are made ill due to either improper workplace waste management or lack of. Unfortunately, as the nature of industries change of time, not only are we producing more waste, but the nature of waste is also becoming more complex. As such, workplace was is being more detrimental to human health and the environment. Therefore, both employers and employees are responsible for taking the appropriate actions to ensure effective and efficient workplace waste management.