Health and Safety Guidelines for Waste Characterization Studies

Note: Guidelines for sorting procedures are also available.

1. Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide safety guidelines for performing visual and/or physical characterizations of nonhazardous solid waste from various selected garbage dumpsters, transfer stations, and sanitary landfills.

2. Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction
2.0 Table of Contents
3.0 Specific Procedures

3. Specific Procedures

3.01 List of potential hazards

The following section lists some possible hazards that may occur during a visual and a physical sort of solid waste.

  1. Physical hazards
    • Cuts and punctures from handling hazardous materials: hypodermic needles, broken glass, razor blades, aerosol cans, chemicals, biohazards, bottles of unknown/unlabeled substances, plastic bottles containing used syringes, and other hazardous materials
    • Back injury
    • Slipping and falling
    • Heat stress and fatigue
    • Traffic or heavy equipment movement
    • Noise exposure from operation of heavy equipment
    • Animal and/or insect bites
  2. Airborne contaminants
    • Dust from solid waste
  3. Chemical hazards
    • Liquid spills from containers
    • Household and hazardous chemicals
  4. Biological hazards
    • Household hazardous wastes
    • Medical wastes and sharps
    • Bloody rags or objects
    • Hypodermic needles

3.02 Recommended personal safety/protective equipment

The following section lists some of the personal safety/protective equipment recommended for a visual and physical sort of solid waste.

  1. Body protection
    • Tyvek or equivalent, disposable coveralls
    • Chemical resistant coveralls, if appropriate
    • Hard bottomed, nonslip, steel toe boots
    • A supply of outer rubber (cut and puncture resistant) gloves
    • Chemical goggles or safety glasses with splash shields
    • Dust masks
    • A supply of inner (latex) gloves
    • Snake guards, if appropriate
    • Insect repellent
    • Dog repellent
  2. Hearing protection (if site has equipment or activities that generate loud noises)
    • Ear plugs
    • Ear muffs
  3. Other safety equipment
    • Supportive back belt for heavy lifting
    • Industrial first aid kit
    • Field blanket
    • Eye wash kit
    • Moist, disposable towelettes (e.g., baby wipes)
    • Six foot pole
    • Small fire extinguisher
    • Cell phone
    • High visibility traffic cones and tapes
    • Site-specific safety plan
    • Liquids to replenish fluids (water and cups for dehydration)

3.03 Responsible personnel

The following section lists some of the duties and responsibilities of personnel who are supervising and conducting a visual/physical sort of solid waste.

  1. Supervising Project Manager's duties and responsibilities:
    • Delegate health and safety responsibilities to the Site Safety Officer; ensure that qualified personnel implement proper procedures in a safe manner, make available proper personal protective equipment, adequate time, and budget.
    • Ensure that all field personnel have read, understood, and signed the master copy of this document.
    • Check that all the site personnel have received, and documented training on waste characterization methods, recognizing hazardous wastes, potential risks from handling hazardous materials, managing site traffic, controlling dust/airborne contaminants, and back injury prevention.
  2. Site Safety Officer's (can be the same person as above) duties and responsibilities:
    • Has the duty and authority to stop unsafe operations, supervise CPR, and decide when to summon emergency services.
    • Ensure that the guidelines, rules, and procedures in this document are followed for all site work.
    • Be familiar with local emergency services, and maintain a list of emergency phone numbers. Provide a map with the quickest route to a medical facility.
    • Conduct daily tailgate health and safety meetings before each shift, and a daily summary meeting at the end of each shift to discuss the day's safety issues, possible solutions, and notify personnel of all changes associated with health, safety, and protocol.
    • Maintain and inspect personal protective equipment. Ensure proper use of personal protective equipment by all employees.
    • Monitor on site hazards and the early health warning signs (e.g., heat stress/stroke, dehydration, or fatigue) of site personnel. It is recommended that on hot days, outdoor sampling should be done during the early hours.
    • Has completed appropriate health and safety training. (Recommended: 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operation & Emergency Response, CCR, T8, Section 5192-OSHA).

3.04 General safety procedures

The following section lists some of the general safety procedures recommended for a visual/physical sort of solid waste.

  1. All waste sorting personnel should: be in good physical condition, have had a recent medical exam, maintain a current tetanus booster and Hepatitis B shot, not be sensitive to odors and dust, and be able to read warning signs/labels on waste containers.
  2. There will be absolutely no eating, smoking, or drinking during sorting activities. Food and liquids are to be away from the sorting area. Plenty of fluids (e.g., water, sports drinks, etc.) and single use, disposable cups must be available at all times. Hands and faces should be washed before eating or drinking. Consume drinks and rest frequently during hot days.
  3. The "line of sight buddy system" must always be maintained at the sorting site. The "line of sight buddy system" is as follows: sorters are grouped into pairs and each member is to periodically assess the physical condition of his/her "buddy".
  4. Always wear the following before beginning the sorting procedure: both pairs of gloves (outer rubber and inner latex), chemical goggles or safety glasses with splash shields, a dust mask, and disposable Tyvek overalls. Use safety boots especially when getting into bins.
  5. Make noise when approaching the actual waste site to allow any wildlife/pest animals to flee. Look for snakes and poisonous spiders around and inside a dumpster/bin by probing with a long stick.
  6. Do not attempt to identify unknown chemical substances present in the waste stream: vials of chemicals, unlabeled pesticide/herbicide containers, and substances (e.g., chemicals, or needles) in unlabeled plastic/glass bottles/jugs.
  7. Household hazardous wastes are those wastes resulting from products purchased by the public for household use which because of their quantity, concentration, physical, or infectious, characteristics, may pose a substantial known or potential hazard to human or environmental health when improperly disposed. Empty containers of household hazardous wastes are generally not considered to be a hazardous waste. If hazardous wastes are detected, the Site Safety Officer will be notified.
  8. Hazardous materials and hazardous wastes should not be present in non-residential sources of municipal solid waste. If hazardous wastes are present in the municipal waste stream, from a commercial or industrial source, the material is not a household hazardous waste, it is a hazardous waste and the Site Safety Officer must be notified.
  9. Bio-hazardous wastes are generally disposed of in red, plastic bags. Treated bio-hazardous wastes (by incineration, autoclave, chemical sterilization, etc.), are also usually in red bags. If biohazardous wastes are detected, the sort will be halted (the bag will not be removed from the dumpster/bin) and the Site Safety Officer must be notified.
  10. A potential hazard that can arise in waste sampling is the presence of bio-hazardous wastes that are not in red bags, referred to as "fugitive regulated wastes". Sorters must be on alert for the indicators of fugitive bio-hazardous wastes: hypodermic needles, needle covers, medical tubing, articles contaminated with red (blood) colored substances, and medical device packaging. If fugitive bio-hazardous wastes are detected, the sort will be halted and the Site Safety Officer notified.
  11. When sorting glass, remove the large pieces first, and then remove the clear glass. Never use your hands to dig down through the waste. Use a rake or small shovel to pull/push the material to the side and continue sorting.
  12. At the end of each shift, remove all disposable clothing into a plastic trash bag, and place the bag into a solid waste receptacle. All sorters must shower at the end of each shift.

3.05 Site control in work zones

The following section lists site control recommendations for a visual/physical sort of solid waste.

  1. Traffic cones or high visibility warning tape will be placed around the active sorting area.
  2. Each work crew will keep a site-specific safety plan on site at all times.

3.06 Site resources and personnel

The following section lists available site contacts and resources for a visual/physical sort of solid waste.

a. On-site contact:

  • Main point of contact
  • Telephone number
  • Facility manager
  • Telephone number

b. Site resources locations

  • Toilet facilities
  • Drinking water
  • Telephone

c. Medical information

  • Local emergency medical facility
  • Fire Dept. phone number
  • Police Dept. phone number
  • Local ambulance phone number

3.07 Site maps

See attachments for a site map that shows the location of local medical facilities.

3.08 Agreement to comply with the health and safety plan

I _______________________________________  (print name) have read and understand the health and safety plan and will follow the procedures and protocols detailed in the plan for waste characterization at all designated sites.

The above guidelines are from the California 1999 Statewide Waste Composition Study by the Cascadia Consulting Group, Inc. for the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle).


Comments, suggestions, questions? Contact CalRecycle waste characterization staff at

Solid Waste Characterization: