Recycling Plant Work Injury in Massachusetts

At the Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers, we recognize that recycling plant workers injury cases can be more complex due to both the higher risk of severe injury and the sizable portion of temporary staffers. Our workers' compensation attorneys are committed to exploring every option for financial recovery on your behalf.

Recycling plant workers protect the planet, but too often, they are left unprotected from job-related hazards. Work injury rates in recycling plants are nearly double the national average, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health.

In many Massachusetts cities, recycling plant employees toil in loud, dusty facilities, exposed to extreme hot or cold. Many work long, tedious hours, sorting materials while leaning over conveyor belts and removing those items that don't belong. Those belts often contain chemicals, broken glass, needles or even dead animals. They operate heavy machines, maneuver around forklifts and front-end loaders, pass huge, heavy bales of material prone to unexpected toppling if improperly stacked. Workers at recycling plants are also at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Making matters worse is the fact many recycling plants rely significantly on temporary labor. As noted by a ProPublica investigation, temporary workers tend to lack both the experience and training to safely do the job (and companies tend to assign temp workers to the most hazardous posts).

Dangers for Massachusetts Recycling Plant Workers

The U.S. Census reports there are approximately 21,000 workers nationally who process recyclable materials after they've been collected from private or city waste crews. These are the workers responsible for sorting paper, metals and glass, while pulling items off conveyor belts that don't fit the criteria. Sometimes those items are hazardous. The unpredictable nature of these materials means workers face higher injury rates.

Non-fatal injuries are often quite serious. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the rate of recycling plant worker injuries is 8.5 per 100 workers, far higher than the national average for all industries (3.5 per 100 workers) and even higher than the average for all waste management workers (5.1 per 100 workers).

Among the workers injured at these plants in recent years (as reported in OSHA violation citations):

  • Amputation of an employee's fingers due to failure of facility to implement a lockout/ tagout program;
  • Fractured leg of an employee after becoming caught in a bailer;
  • Hand of employee crushed in a bailer while performing maintenance;
  • Unsafe forklift platform leading to serious fall.

Many recycling plant workers stand long hours, and sometimes are involved in repetitive motion in awkward positions. This is part of why musculoskeletal injuries among recycling plant workers are common, with 57 percent of workers reporting some type of job-related injury having damage to back or knees.

Dust at recycling plants is also a big problem, with many workers reporting it can be difficult to breathe, despite wearing masks.

Constant stress is commonly reported too, with workers revealing in anonymous surveys they are under intense pressure to perform at certain levels or risk termination. They're also hesitant to report safety issues for fear of retaliation.

Temporary workers especially are at high risk. Elite Staffing, one of the largest temporary staffing companies in the U.S., says that it provides temporary workers to 90 percent of facilities run by the country's largest waste management firm, serving some 20 million municipal, residential and commercial customers. These workers are often placed in high-risk positions with less training, less pay and fewer protections. A lack of job security makes them less likely to raise safety concerns or report injuries to supervisors.

This work can even be fatal. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports there were 17 fatalities at recycling plants in a three-year span. Factors that contributed to those deaths included:

  • Struck by moving vehicles (forklifts, bulldozers, trucks);
  • Caught or crushed in balers or other heavy machinery during maintenance/while clearing jams;
  • Crushed by balers;
  • Buried under tons of materials.
Who is Eligible for Workers' Compensation?

Workers' compensation is paid by your employer's insurance, as required by Massachusetts General Law c. 152 § 25A. It is a no-fault benefit, meaning you are not required to prove anyone else was to blame - or that you weren't responsible for your own injury - so long as you can show the injury arose out of or occurred in the course and scope of employment.

This is relatively straightforward, but matters can get more complicated if the injured worker is a "temp." Technically, it is the temporary staffing agency that is the worker's employer, and that agency may be liable to cover workers' compensation benefits. However, a recycling plant that employs temporary workers may be deemed a "joint employer," as defined by the National Labor Relations Board, if there is evidence it exercised control over the workers in a manner that is not limited and routine.

It's not uncommon for recycling plant workers to be "permatemps," wherein they are employed in the same position for years, doing work a regular employee would do, while being deprived of the benefits of an actual employee. These workers may be improperly classified.

While employee misclassification is sometimes an issue in workers' compensation cases, the state assumes a worker is an employee, rather than an independent contractor, unless certain criteria are met, as outlined in the 2009 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial decision in Somers v. Converged Access. The burden of proof will be on the employer to show the worker isn't an employee.

In the event the recycling plant is not considered your employer, we may then begin exploring a third-party liability lawsuit against the plant. This can be to your benefit in some cases because unlike workers' compensation, winners of third-party liability lawsuits may be entitled to special damages for pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment and (spouses) loss of consortium. The catch, is that unlike workers' compensation, plaintiffs in these cases need to establish the defendant company was negligent. That is, they owed a duty to use reasonable care, breached that duty and that breach of duty caused your injuries.

Our dedicated team of attorneys in Boston will fight for you to obtain the maximum amount available in your case.

Contact Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation.


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